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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / October 17.
  • After Journey from Jamaica to Jersey, Nick Richards Commits to Kentucky

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    HILLSIDE, N.J. — Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Nick Richards loved competing in soccer, volleyball and track and field.

    But his life changed forever when, in the summer of 2013, a New York City basketball scout named Andre Ricketts discovered Richards at a basketball camp in his home country.

    “He found me in Jamaica and he brought me up here,” the 6-foot-11 Richards told me.

    At that stage, Richards never imagined he could earn a Division 1 scholarship based on his raw basketball abilities.

    “No, when I was there that never really came across my mind,” he said. After initially landing at St. Mary’s High School on Long Island, Richards didn’t realize basketball could get him to college — and maybe beyond — until “probably like the beginning of my junior year.” By that stage, he had transferred to New Jersey power St. Patrick’s, now known as The Patrick School.

    On Thursday, Richards took the latest step in his journey when he became Kentucky’s first commit in the Class of 2017.

    Ranked the No. 2 center in the Class of 2017 by 247Sports.com, Richards chose Kentucky over Syracuse and Arizona.

    “I’ll be signing to the University of Kentucky,” Richards, who runs with the Expresssions Elite AAU program, told me Wednesday at his school. “Honestly, I just want to play at the highest level in college basketball and they showed they’re overall the highest level out of all the schools so that’s basically my decision.”

    Richards has visited Kentucky twice in recent weeks, once on an official visit and again for Big Blue Madness.

    “All the coaching staff, they showed me a lot of love,” Richards said. “They showed me they can develop my game however long I choose to stay there.”

    Asked if he was already thinking ahead to a possible one-and-done season at Kentucky, Richards said, “Right now I’m not thinking about how long I’m going to stay, I’m thinking about getting better.”

    Kentucky coach John Calipari has made several trips to St. Patrick’s to see Richards in recent weeks. It’s the same school that produced former Kentucky players Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dakari Johnson, as well as former Duke star and current NBA champion Kyrie Irving. Kidd-Gilchrist has also reached out to recruit Richards to Kentucky.

    “Honestly, I couldn’t choose between the three schools that I picked so me and my family had to come to a common ground and we came to Kentucky,” Richards said.

    “[Coach Calipari] always talks about me growing as a player and as a person and just working on getting better,” he added.

    Mike Rice, the current Patrick School and former Rutgers coach, has worked with Richards the past several years and says his upside is huge.

    “Everyone sees the upside the last couple of years with the incredible athleticism, the leaping ability, how quickly he gets off his feet, the way he runs and he moves, that’s always been there,” Rice said. “But what he’s added to his game as far as the skill-work and the purpose and the footwork in the post, it’s pretty incredible from just one year to the next.”

    Richards has only been playing organized basketball for about four years since leaving Jamaica and was known early on as a defensive specialist. But he has expanded his offensive game in the last year or so to the point where he now has a hook shot, a jumper out to 15 feet and a repertoire of post moves.

    “Now he’s got a nice 15-foot jump shot, foul line ‘J’ and he has a couple go-to moves now,” Rice said. “He understood that he didn’t need to have 20 moves, but if he had four or five moves in the post he can build that, and that’s what he’s done. He’s done a great job really just focusing in on a couple of different things in the post and it’s made him such a better player.”

    Said Richards of his emerging offensive game: “It took time but mostly it took confidence. In pickup games, I was always able to do it. In workouts I was always able to do it. But when it came down to a real game, my confidence wasn’t really there but my confidence was slowly building over the years.”

    Rice says Kentucky is also getting a solid citizen and a nice young man.

    “You’re getting one of the hardest workers and someone who does it with a smile on his face,” Rice said. “When you’re dealing with Nick, Nick is a sponge and Nick wants and understands that every day is a challenge to improve. And you get that in a young man with that much of a natural talent, and that’s why where he is now. He’s a top-10 player in the country.

    “The game is slowing down to him. He did some things last year where he would only use his athleticism and now the game is slow to him. Whether it’s position, using ball-fakes, shot-fakes, the game is slow and you’re going to see a big difference in his play.”

    Rice says Richards has pro potential down the road.

    “When you choose a school like Kentucky, that’s definitely in the future and Coach Calipari understands that.”

    Richards is Kentucky’s first 2017 commit, but Findlay Prep forward P.J. Washington is due to announce later Thursday between Kentucky, North Carolina and UNLV.

    Kentucky remains in the mix for several other 2017 stars, including guards Shai Alexander (who announces on Monday) Quade Green (who announces Nov. 19) and Trae Young, wing Kevin Knox and big man Mohamed Bamba, who will commit in the spring.

    Richards is one of five Patrick School to commit D-1 this fall, following guards Jamir Harris (Minnesota) and Marcus McClary (Monmouth) and bigs Bul Ajang and Buay Koka (Tulane). The other four signed on Wednesday.

    Together, the group has one united goal: the New Jersey Tournament of Champions title.

    “Anything short of a TOC,” Richards told me, “is a failure.”

     

    (Photo: Jeremy Schneider/ Star-Ledger)

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    Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.