Mark Story

Who is under the most pressure for Cal’s Cats? It’s not even close

Immanuel Quickley chose UK for the challenge: ‘Practice is gonna be harder than the game’

University of Kentucky freshman Immanuel Quickley said the primary reason he chose the Wildcats was the chance to get better every day in practice going against players who test him.
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University of Kentucky freshman Immanuel Quickley said the primary reason he chose the Wildcats was the chance to get better every day in practice going against players who test him.

Immanuel Quickley considers himself a student of basketball.

So the Havre de Grace, Md., product has paid close attention to the elite line of point guards — from John Wall through Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — that have worn the Kentucky Wildcats uniform during the John Calipari-coaching era.

“I watched everyone,” Quickley says. “I’m really close with Shai. De’Aaron Fox. John Wall. All the Kentucky point guards have been real good.”

Immanuel Quickley dribbling in practice
Kentucky freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley (5) embraces working to meet the standard set by prior UK star guards. “I’m in the gym absolutely every single day, before class and then at night,” he says. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

You think there is pressure in your job? Quickley, Kentucky’s 6-foot-3, 185-pound freshman lead guard, has to live up to the following standard:

Since Calipari came to Kentucky in 2009-10, seven of the eight UK starting point guards have gone on to play in the NBA.

Five — Wall (2010); Brandon Knight (2011); Marquis Teague (2012); Fox (2017); and Gilgeous-Alexander (2018) — have been one-and-done, first-round draft picks.

Four — Wall (2010); Tyler Ulis (2016); Fox (2017); and Gilgeous-Alexander (2018) — have been SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player.

Three — Knight (2011); Teague (2012); and Andrew Harrison (2014 and ‘15) — have directed Final Four runs.

Two — Wall in 2010 and Ulis in 2016 — have been SEC Player of the Year.

One, Teague in 2012, quarterbacked Kentucky to the national championship.

Quickley says knowing the track record he will be expected to uphold at UK is motivating on a daily basis.

“Absolutely. I’m in the gym every single day, before class and then at night,” he says.

Calipari enters 2018-19 with point guard options.

Sophomore Quade Green, who was supplanted at the point last season by Gilgeous-Alexander, returns. UK also added Ashton Hagans after the 6-3 Georgia high school star reclassified from the class of 2019 and entered college this year.

Yet where shooting is considered Green’s calling card and Hagans is valued for his tenacious defense, Quickley enters 2018-19 expected to be a legitimate “two-way” point guard.

“I think I am an all-around point guard that plays defense and, then, on offense, I can shoot and get my teammates involved,” Quickley says.

That Hagans and Quickley face each other daily in Kentucky practices tests both.

“It’s hard. We’re competing, going at each other’s head daily,” Hagans said. “But, at the end of the day, we are trying to make each other better day-by-day Off the court, we’re real close.”

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At The John Carroll School in Maryland, Quickley led the Patriots to two state titles and earned McDonald’s All-American recognition after a senior season in which he averaged 20 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Before arriving in Lexington the guard was familiar with playing for Calipari. Quickley was on the Team USA squad that Cal coached to a bronze medal in the 2017 FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt.

CalQuickley
Immanuel Quickley, left, played for John Calipari on the USA Basketball U-19 team in 2017. FIBA photo

This past summer, when Kentucky played a series of four exhibition games against international professional teams in the Bahamas, Quickley looked worthy of assuming the Kentucky point guard baton.

He averaged 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists while committing only two turnovers.

Quickley was so circumspect with the ball in the Bahamas, the point guard says Calipari subsequently challenged him to play with more abandon.

“He would rather me have 10 assists with four turnovers than three assists with no turnovers,” Quickley said. “He wants me to try to make plays. I think that’s why his point guards in the past have done so well.”

In the preseason, Calipari likened Quickley to two of the coach’s former Kentucky point-guard standouts.

“He’s like Brandon Knight in the (Joe Craft Center) building. Always there. Always working,” Calipari said. “In the weight room, he’s like Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander). The best in the weight room.”

An honor student in high school who can play both the saxophone and the drums, Quickley reminds one of Knight with his off-the-court polish.

However, the player who says he “watched everyone” of the prior Calipari-era UK point guards says there is no perfect comparison for him from any of them.

“Maybe I have some parts of the other ones,” Immanuel Quickley says. “But I don’t think I’m just like any of the other ones. I think I bring something a little bit different.”

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

QuickleyShot
Immanuel Quickley was named a 2018 McDonald’s All-American after averaging 20 points, six rebounds and six assists as a high school senior at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Maryland. Brian Spurlock USA TODAY Sports

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