Nick Richards is back for a second season and eager to show the world a new version of himself.
We got a glimpse of the new Richards, who I call Sophomore Nick Richards, during Kentucky's four-game run in the Bahamas, in which he averaged 12 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per contest.
John Calipari said, "He’s not the same player," following his 19-point performance against the Bahamas national team in the first of the four games.
But before we build up the excitement for Sophomore Nick Richards' potential in 2018-19, let's revisit Richards' struggles as a freshman last season.
He entered the year as a five-star, McDonald's All-American prospect with high NBA draft projections, presumably as a one-and-done talent. However, we would soon find that Richards wasn't completely ready to meet those expectations. Outside of a career game against Fort Wayne, six games into the season, Richards' numbers don't exactly jump off the page for someone with his size and athleticism.
He started all 37 games for the Wildcats, but averaged only 5.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. His minutes dwindled as the year went on, and by tournament time, he was a non-factor. Though still a starter, he played only seven minutes per game in Kentucky's six postseason games, scoring less than two points in each of those contests.
Needless to say, Richards' first season was a disappointment. That being said, it's a driving factor in his improvement as he approaches Year 2 in Lexington.
"Everything is easier," he said, when asked about his jump from freshman to sophomore. "I expect more. I know what to expect now and I'm not going to make as much mistakes as I did last year. I know the mistakes that I made last year and I know I'm just not going to make them this year."
His newfound confidence is one of the major changes he sees in himself since last year. Confidence was often the issue when he struggled, not skill; so to improve on that is a huge step in his progress.
He told KSR, "I feel a lot more confident as a person and as a player."
Consistency is another aspect of his game he has worked on this offseason.
"Being more consistent as a basketball player, just trying to have more of a feel for basketball games, just trying to be confident as an athlete," he said. "Listen to my coaches more, be more consistent in my workouts, just stuff like that."
When watching Richards' development, it is important to remember his path is very unique, which is why he is back at school for a sophomore year when many others in his position bolted for the NBA after one season. While others have spent their entire lives playing basketball, Richards didn't begin playing until he was 15 years old, so he has only four years of experience.
He will not use that as an excuse, though.
"I don't really try to focus on it," he said of his basketball adolescence. "You're at Kentucky right now, you can't use that as an excuse anymore. You just gotta go out there and work your hardest and play your best. You can't rely on excuses all the time like that to say why you're not playing as well as everybody else."
Looking at his timeline, it's pretty remarkable he's come so far in only four years in the sport. So who's to say he won't make another significant jump in his sophomore campaign in Lexington? I wouldn't bet against him.
I wouldn't bet against his team, either. It's a group that will contend for the national championship. If they get there, it will be redemption for how last season ended after Kentucky fell short while on a favorable path to the Final Four.
The heartbreak after the loss to Kansas State is still on Richards' mind, as is the shot at NCAA tournament redemption.
'That was probably like one of the saddest moments of my entire life," he said of the postgame locker room scene. "I didn't really want to be a part of that, I really don't want to have that moment again this year, so we're all working towards (a national title)."
Check out the rest of KSR’s 2018-19 Basketball Preview Series:
10 Things from John Calipari’s Roundtable | John Calipari Roundtable TranscriptTyler Herro | Keldon Johnson |Immanuel Quickley| Ashton Hagans | EJ Montgomery | Reid Travis | Nick Richards | PJ Washington | Quade Green | Jemarl Baker