By CHANDLER WILCOX, Contributing Writer
In his third year of being at UK, a lot of spectators were wondering if Nick Richards would finally start to find a groove as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats.
In the first regular season game against first-ranked Michigan State, Richards was not expected to play much after rolling his ankle in the exhibition game against Georgetown, but managed to have 25 minutes of game action in the win for the Cats, and was a difference-maker defensively despite only having 7 points and 4 boards.
Coach John Calipari on Friday said Richards’ presence in the Michigan State game was “unbelievable” and said “he really helped himself”.
Fast forward to tonight’s 91-49 win over Eastern Kentucky, and he once again was a difference-maker.
Calipari said after the game, “He’s gotten himself in shape and confident.”
Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton also complimented Richards’ play, saying, “If he plays like that, Kentucky is probably going to win the National Championship.”
The junior forward’s overall play in this game also showed up in the stat sheet, as he went 10-for-11 from the field and finished with a team-high 21 points.
“They (his teammates) tried to get me involved from the jump,” Richards said. “They were throwing me lobs, hitting me in the post, and just trying to get me easy baskets.”
“If you outrun the ball on offense you’re going to get easy baskets and post up with a wide-open floor,” Calipari said he tells Richards.
Not just offensively, but he again was a difference on the boards and on defense, as he grabbed 10 rebounds, which with the 21 points gave him his second career double-double, and blocked four shots.
“A lot of people have been calling my coaches saying my defense has been great but it’s all because of them,” Richards said. “They try to teach us little details on how to make it harder for the offensive team and we’re doing it as a team right now.”
Calipari went back to talking about outrunning the ball when discussing Richards’ impact on defense, saying, “If you outrun the ball on defense, you’ll be back there to block shots and rebound.”
Richards gives the training staff a lot of credit for even having him ready for these first two regular season games this week after suffering a tough ankle injury in the exhibition against Georgetown College.
“We have training staff from the NBA so I’ve been training three times a week just trying to get stronger,” he said.
The junior forward overall is not focused on this performance as opposed to other performances, as much as he is about the win as a team.
“Right now I’m really just trying to celebrate this win with my team,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what the stat sheet says, all we care about is the win.”
Richards has opened a lot of eyes with his play so far this season and has proven he can make an impact, which makes the ceiling of this Kentucky basketball team even higher.