The newcomers on this season’s UK basketball team are — as is always the case these days — impressive.
There’s Reid Travis, the graduate transfer who turns 23 next month and brings a veteran’s wisdom to another young bunch.
There’s Ashton Hagans, the flashy point guard who decided to move up from the 2019 recruiting class over the summer and provided the final exclamation point on John Calipari’s 2018 haul.
There’s EJ Montgomery, who — somewhat unexpectedly — picked UK over Duke, North Carolina and others late in the process and comes to Lexington with arguably the highest NBA Draft ceiling of anyone on the team.
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There’s Keldon Johnson, the highly ranked wing who wowed scouts in high school with his versatile play and is already winning over UK fans with his outgoing personality.
There’s Tyler Herro, the possibly underrated shooting guard from Wisconsin who went from four-star recruit to breakout star with his performances in the Bahamas this summer.
And, oh yeah, there’s also Immanuel Quickley, an unassuming point guard from the Baltimore area who was UK’s first commitment in this class last fall and has, it seems, become almost the forgotten man in Calipari’s incoming bunch.
If that’s what’s happened, it’s OK with Quickley.
It’s attention to detail now, attention for himself later.
“I’d rather let them have all the spotlight anyway. If that’s how it is, that’s how it’s going to be,” he said. “But I’m not really worried about that. I’m just worried about focusing on my game, getting better and winning games.”
As newer pieces of this UK team fell into place over the course of the 2018 recruiting cycle, Quickley receded to the background. Even his stellar play in the Bahamas — 18 assists, two turnovers, five steals and 4.5 rebounds in 24 minutes per game — was overlooked by many, so much so that Calipari was asked about it during his preseason roundtable with local reporters.
It would have been easy for Quickley to get ruffled when Calipari added Hagans — another star point guard — to his 2018 class at the last minute. Or when the UK coach talked to Tyrese Maxey — yet another star point guard — about reclassifying and joining the 2018-19 team.
Instead of complaining, Quickley took a “whatever will be, will be” approach. And he came to work.
“He’s like Brandon Knight in the building. Always there. Always working,” Calipari said. “In the weight room, he’s like Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander). The best in the weight room.”
And he was “terrific” on the court in the Bahamas, the UK coach added.
The expectations, whatever they might be, won’t mean anything starting next month. That’s when the real games begin, something Quickley has been working toward for a long time.
UK assistant coach Joel Justus, the lead recruiter on Quickley, saw his work ethic early on.
“He wants to be a pro,” Justus said during the spring. “That’s why he wanted to come here.”
Hagans played against Quickley last summer on the Adidas circuit. Knowing his fellow hard-working point guard was going to be in Lexington only made him want to be a Wildcat even more. “We were going at each other’s head like we are now in practice,” Hagans said.
During one McDonald’s All-American practice in late March, a coach called for a water break and Quickley and the rest of his teammates headed for the cooler. Quickley took a couple sips and was back on the court, practicing free throws. His teammates sat on the bench and watched.
The next day, Quickley did the same thing. This time, a few of his teammates got up, found a ball, and put in a little extra work themselves. His hard work is contagious.
“He’s always trying to get better,” said five-star point guard Darius Garland, a freshman at Vanderbilt this season.
Quickley knew Kentucky would be the best place to keep improving.
“It’s pretty much me and Ashton going against each other every day. In every drill,” he said “It just makes it great, because I’m going against somebody who’s not going to make it easy.”
The competition is why he’s here.
“Practice, that’s what I expected,” Quickley said. “That’s why you come to Kentucky. Because you want to play against other really good players. If you want to just be the guy by yourself, you go somewhere else. But Kentucky is where you’re going to go at it every single day in practice.
“I’m just looking forward to getting better each and every day. I think that’s how I got to Kentucky, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. Just working hard. Early mornings. Late nights. And just continue to get better.”
About this series
This is the seventh in a series of 13 stories featuring members of the 2018-19 University of Kentucky men’s basketball team. Watch for all 13 in the coming days in the Herald-Leader and on Kentucky.com.