UK Basketball: Seasoned veteran Richards ready to be a team leader

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Nick Richards
Kentucky's Nick Richards has improved greatly over the past month. (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) —Nick Richards is more than excited about the upcoming season than his first two seasons with the Wildcats and his goals haven’t changed, either.

“One of the goals when I came in was to win a national championship, and that’s one of my goals this season,” he said. “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 declared for the NBA Draft last spring, but opted to return for a third season. As one of the team’s veterans, Kentucky coach John Calipari said Richards is showing his experience in preseason workouts.

“He’s really playing well and he’s playing confident and, obviously, the expectation is this is his time,” he said. “He played against two mooses 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 E.J. (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.”

Calipari hopes Richards can sustain the improvement once the season begins and the Kentucky coach added, “there’s no one rooting for him more than me.”

“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,” Calipari said. “Can you hold your ground? Can you sustain your confidence in that kind of situation? 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.”

Richards also will be counted on to step into more of a leadership role and he’s ready for the challenge.

“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,” he said. “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 also wants to set an example for the rest of the players to follow.

“I just have to set an example for the younger guys and show them how it works here,” he 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.”

Richards is anxious to begin his third tour of duty with the team and the bottom of line is winning a national championship.

“This year I’m just excited, just can’t wait for the year to start. It’s going to be a great year for all of us.” He said. “It’s going to show how good we are as a basketball team and hopefully we win a national championship.”

Gametracker: Big Blue Madness, 7 p.m., Friday

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21

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