Nick Richards arrived in Lexington as another in a long line of highly-touted big men in the Cal era. He had, and still has, all the tools: 7’0″ with a 7’5″ wingspan, long, athletic, runs the floor well, rim protection potential, and a nice shooting touch.
The fan base, for the most part, had gotten spoiled and has expected him to step in and be as talented as advertised; much like DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Julius Randle who had gone before him.
Before Cal arrived and player expectations and development accelerated, Richards’ path, albeit bumpy, wouldn’t have been considered abnormal. We all remember the flash he showed in his 25 point, 10 rebound effort six games into his freshman season against Ft. Wayne. That was his only double-digit rebounding game of the entire season.
Just like we heard about Willie Cauley-Stein playing wide receiver in high school, we frequently heard about Richards beginning to play basketball as a teenager. He was trying to get a handle on all of the basics that most players had learned while at the University of Kentucky.
It was easy to see that he was thinking too much. He was thinking about where he should be or what he should be doing. Oftentimes, his reactions were late and the shot was long gone before he got a hand up to challenge the shot.
This carried over into other aspects of the game, including his sophomore season (only two double-digit rebound games). If he made a poor decision within the game, it was immediately written on his face. Cal was quick with the hook, and Richards beat himself up mentally on the bench.
He had all of the tools, but none of the confidence.
Fast forward to this season to date. In eight games, Richards has posted double-doubles in four of them. He is one rebound short of making it five out of eight (16 points, 9 rebounds vs UAB). He is finally seeing the benefits of the work he’s been putting in.
The level of competition is going to elevate with Ohio State, Louisville and conference play on the horizon. However, you have to like the foundation that Richards has been able to lay. He had never been this consistent in his first two seasons.
Now, Richards has a run of impressive performances under his belt. Even if, or when, he has a bad game, he now has the successes of the early season to fall back on to remind him that he is capable of getting it done. That is going to pay dividends as the season progresses.
Photo Credit: Jordan Prather