- Incoming freshman center Nick Richards's most important contributions to the Wildcats in 2017–18 will likely come on the defensive end.
It should come as no surprise to college basketball fans that freshmen have come to possess a significant portion of the star power in the sport. Just look at this year’s NBA draft, where the first upperclassman was not selected until Duke sophomore Luke Kennard with 12th pick. So while some returning players will undoubtedly have a major impact in 2017–18 season, it’s important to get to know the new faces who may come to occupy the spotlight.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top 25 incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. We move to the No. 17 overall recruit, Kentucky's Nick Richards.
What he means for Kentucky’s recruiting class
Richards is not as highly touted as the last top-end center Kentucky plucked out of New Jersey, 2015 No. 1 NBA draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns. And his ranking won’t move the needle for a program that routinely brings in recruits of his stature, especially in a year in which five other players at Richards’s position are viewed as superior prospects (Mohamed Bamba, DeAndre Ayton, Wendell Carter, Mitchell Robinson and Brandon McCoy). Including mid-year enrollee Hamidou Diallo, there are five other five-stars in the Wildcats’ class (Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Quade Green) as well as two four-stars (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jemarl Baker).
How he fits
Kentucky’s approach to team-building is predicated on recruiting one-and-dones, which ensures heavy roster turnover every year. Surprise, surprise: There will be a lot of shots and minutes to go around in Lexington this season. Richards, in particular, could step into the frontcourt hole left by the departures of Bam Adebayo and Isaac Humphries to the pros. Kentucky probably won’t lean on Richards for much offense; his scoring repertoire is mostly confined to the basket area, and the Wildcats have several better options. But Richards should be able to help out right away blocking shots and pulling down rebounds. He could thrive as a drive-deterring backline defender who contributes as a rim-runner on the other end of the floor.
Not even a recruiting class this loaded can offset a personnel exodus as large as the one Kentucky must overcome heading into next season. The Wildcats return only one rotation player, Wenyen Gabriel, and he ranked seventh on the team in minutes per game in 2016–17. That said, it would be silly to doubt Kentucky’s ability to replenish its talent base, and both the quantity and caliber of prospects en route suggest there could be more success on the order of what Calipari has produced during most of his tenure in charge of the Wildcats. They’ll open SEC play as the favorite to win the conference, and another deep NCAA tournament run is well within reach.