‘Sophomore Nick Richards’ performing in unexpected ways


Kentucky sophomore forward Nick Richards makes a two point basket during the game against Mississippi State on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 76-55. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Chase Campbell

Since the UK men’s basketball trip in the Bahamas concluded, Cats fans have desired and pleaded for “Sophomore Nick Richards” to show up to games.

In the Bahamas, Richards volleyball-spiked shots and put up hooks that started above the rim. He hustled up and down the floor, outmuscling the opposition on the glass.

Then, like it never even happened, Sophomore Nick Richards disappeared. The starting center for much of last season, Richards struggles to maintain a consistent positive presence on the floor for the Cats. He’s averaging fewer points and rebounds than he did a year ago, but on severely reduced minutes. He’s been rotated out of the starting lineup and was in serious danger of completely falling out of the rotation in lieu of E.J. Montgomery.

For the Cats, Richards was an enigma his freshman season. He was capable of dominating the offensive boards and dunking on anybody in his path, much like former Cat Bam Adebayo. Only problem was, he’d never do it against stiff competition.

This year, UK head coach John Calipari has been very specific about Richards’ role. He comes off the bench as a rim protector, making his living on the defensive end as he deters any opposing team from coming into the lane. His natural 6-foot-11 stature is something that P.J. Washington and Reid Travis can’t provide the Cats.

Calipari has said on numerous occasions that the team needs Richards to be national contenders, and that assertion is beginning to show.

Over the course of this season, after his role was defined, Richards threw himself into defense. He now posts a frustrating (for other teams) 93.9 defensive rating (lower is better, 100 is average) and blocks a gaudy 12.2 percent of shots that come his way. Last season, when Richards played more minutes, his block rate was only 7 percent, and he came up with a 99.2 defensive rating.

In conference play, Richards has been downright terrifying on defense.

He boasts a gaudy net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of 45.2, blocking six shots every 100 possessions. He gets a block or a steal on an estimated 15 percent of possessions. He’s doing all of this while averaging a mere 12 minutes per conference game.

For reference, only Braxton Key of Virginia and Kyle Alexander of Tennessee have a higher offensive rating in their conference schedule while playing that level of defense for Power 5 schools.

Sophomore Nick Richards isn’t what we were all expecting him to be. To assume he’s playing poorly because he’s not scoring, however, is grossly unfair to the show he’s been putting on this season.