Cristiano Ronaldo a Big Inspiration to Blossoming Kentucky C Nick Richards

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Perhaps this is Nick Richards truly “taking the leap” now? In #17 Kentucky’s 71-59 win over Missouri today, the SEC opener for both teams, the Kingston, Jamaica (by way of Hillside, New Jersey) native and Patrick School alum was 7-10 shooting, with 17 points and 8 rebounds in the first half.

Although he fouled out with 3:51 to go, the junior center finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes played. It was his sixth double double this season, giving him seven for his career. In his first 74 career games, he had one double double. Now he has six in 13 games this season.

Kentucky is now 9-0 when he scores in double figures, 6-0 when he gets double digit rebounds.

The SEC Co-Player and USBWA National Player of the Week after scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds vs. #3 Louisville last weekend might finally be living up to his consensus five-star recruiting hype now.

Richards came out of high school ranked in the top 20 by all the major recruiting services, including ESPN (No. 12), 247 Sports (No. 13), Scout (No. 16) and Rivals (No. 19). 247 Sports tabbed him as the second-best center in his class.

He might be reaching his full potential now, and if so, one could credit one of his role models, who’s at the top of his game in a different sport.

He’s a big follower of Cristiano Ronaldo and he’s kept up with CR7 at both Real Madrid and Juventus.

“I’ve always been following him since I was a little kid,” Richards said of his favorite athlete. Soccer is one of the first sports I grew up playing, growing up I always followed him, his workout routines, whatever he did, so I tried to model myself after whatever he did.”

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“One of the things we all notice is he spends a lot of time on his body, recovery, doing the necessary things to make sure his body is at 100% at all times.”

Richards, who was a midfielder and a goalkeeper during his soccer playing days, came into the lopsided win shooting 69% from the field and averaging 12.0 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

“He did a great job, his numbers if you look at his stats in the season and this game,” said Missouri Coach Counzo Martin. “But he’s a much-improved big guy to his credit. You hate to lose games, but you love to see a young guy grow like that as a junior in college.”

Missouri senior forward Reed Nikko described what made Richards so effective today:

“He was a physical player and he had a few jump shots he hit early that I think helped his confidence. Got to give him credit but I don’t think I played very well, and we have to do better as a team and not let him get going and have as good of a first half as he had.”

Richards on whether his progress on the basketball court mirrors his growing into a more mature adult:

“I guess you could say that.

Everybody, once they have been in college this long, you start to see their growth process throughout everything on the court and off the court.”

Of course to say that he has broken through now, while a tremendous compliment, is also a massive hindrance. You never want to get complacent, or too comfortable being comfortable.

“Here’s the problem,” said UK Coach John Calipari.

“Why would you get in a back and forth with another player when you’re playing that well? So, he hasn’t come through all the way. Like you have to really look at it and say, why would I go on a back and forth?

“I’m playing out of my mind — rebounding every ball, making shots, making jump shots, making free-throws, making jump hooks, a big rebound stick back that he got. I mean, I’m proud of him, but, again, now it’s time to — he’s never been this guy.”

“So if I’m watching our game and I’m a coach of another team, would you stick in a bad player and say grab his shorts, push him a little bit? Wouldn’t you? You’d put in a bad player and push him and shove him, and he pushes back and double technicals, and all of a sudden, he’ll get out of the game.”

cristiano ronaldo

“He doesn’t have the composure because he’s never been this guy. Now he’s this guy, you have a different responsibility. But he did great. I’m proud of him.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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