LEXINGTON -- Nick Richards wanted to come back for his junior year at the University of Kentucky.
Richards is a 6-foot-11 forward who seems to have a lot of potential, but he's not yet gotten his game to match that.
EJ Montgomery is a 6-10 forward who seems also to have major potential, but he's just shown brief flashes of what he can become as a player. Montgomery also decided to come back for a sophomore season at UK.
Those developments were big for UK coach John Calipari, because that gave him some bigs with experience to work with this season. Both Richards and Montgomery explored NBA Draft options and decided to come back to UK.
If either Richards or Montgomery, or both, have breakout seasons, UK could be formidable all the way to the last weekend of college basketball.
Montgomery displayed his versatility and ability in 37 appearances and 10 starts. His best game was an 11-point, 13-rebound effort vs. South Carolina. He also showed some defensive prowess with shot blocking and making steals.
Richards has appeared in 74 games with 40 starts over the last two seasons. He's blocked 80 shots -- including a team-best 47 in 2018-19 -- over that time with 286 rebounds.
Calipari remains ready to give both players all the chances they need to become consistent, productive performers, while providing the shot blocking that the coach wants of all his UK's teams.
He indicated as much in a round table discussion with several sports reporters recently at the Joe Craft Center.
"EJ, his mind is sharp, he's bouncy," Calipari said. "Now, he's got to get more consistent with his skills. He's basically got to master his craft. Can I do that for him? That's where he is. He has to physically mature, it's not just weight training. Get in that gym."
Richards has been more down than up on the court as he's continued to search for confidence on some talented UK
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teams. Staying within what he can do is a big factor for Richards.
"He catches it close to the basket and shoots the jump hook, you can't stop it," Calipari said. "We're trying to do stuff for his confidence. Now can we get him to be consistent. Here's the good news, he's going to have every minute he needs to be consistent."
As a reinforcement, UK added graduate transfer Nate Sestina, a 6-9 forward from Bucknell who is strong and can shoot well from outside.
"Nate's better than I thought he was," Calipari said. "He talks, you can tell he's played. Nate makes the game so much easier for the other guys because he talks. Nate just doesn't have the defensive presence."
If Sestina works out as well as Reid Travis with his contributions last season, that would be a big bonus for the Wildcats.
The focus for UK's inside game will be on Richards and Montgomery. Calipari called this season an opportunity for all three big men.
"EJ, his body doesn't look the same, he's trying to be more physical," Calipari said. "Nick has more confidence. The kid didn't start playing until he was 14. He's a big kid, it happens later for them."
UK's coaching staff is trying to put Richards and Montgomery in places to be successful on the court.
A conversation with Richards might go something like this.
"You shot a 12-foot floater that had no chance of going in," Calipari said. "Drive the ball and do a jump hook, don't drive the ball and spin and try to pass, you're going to knock three people over, including two cheerleaders.
"You don't want to take away their confidence. They're receptive, they're here to get better."