By LARRY VAUGHT
During the last two season Kentucky coach John Calipari may have been more patient with center Nick Richards than any player in his 10 years at UK.
No, he’s not given Richards excessive minutes when he’s not played well. However, Calipari has never lost his belief that Richards can be a special player and never given up hope on him.
It’s no different going into Richards’s junior year.
“Right now he’s really playing well and he’s playing confident and, obviously, the expectation is this is his time,” Calipari said. “He played against two mooses (PJ Washington and Reid Travis) last year. They could take your confidence away.
“But he, right now, what he’s doing on the court and how he’s playing, whether he goes against EJ (Montgomery), whether he goes against Nate (Sestina), scoring around the basket, shooting the ball better, running, he’s in the best shape I’ve seen him in.”
Richards said at Tuesday’s Media Day that he was more excited to start this season than his first two at UK. He came to Kentucky with a goal of winning a national title, something he’s yet to do but hopes can be done this season.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all. I know I have a good team that’s behind me. I know I can play basketball, and it’s just me stepping on the court to prove to everyone that I can play,” Richards said.
That’s what Calipari — and UK fans — are waiting to see Richards do. The talk has always been good, but now it is time to turn the talk into play.
“You got to get on the court, and now you’re playing against a player that’s a football player that’s trying to just say, ‘I know I can’t play you, I’m going to try to rough you up.’ Can you hold your ground? Can you sustain your confidence in that kind of situation?” Calipari said.
“Until we start playing games, who will know? Now, my hope is he’s ready for it. He’s been here, has a smile on his face, he’s a beautiful kid, he’s one of the nicest people we have had here. There’s no one rooting for him more than me.”
Richards appreciates Calipari’s support.
“It helps to know that I have a coach that has confidence in me and that I have a coaching staff that is helping me get better every day. Either way, coaches tell me in practice, ‘Stick to what we tell you to do but also try to work on your game, as well,’ and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Richards said.
There does need to be one major difference in Richards this year. He’s a three-year scholarship player, a rarity for Calipari at UK. He knows it’s time for him to increase his leadership.
“I just have to set an example for the younger guys and show them how it works here,” Richards said. “People say it’s a hard time trying to figure out our coach’s system and they never really had veterans around to explain it to them, so I’m just happy to be one of those veterans that can help these guys.”