Mark Story

How to earn the friendship of Immanuel Quickley — and 9 more fun UK basketball tidbits

Ten fun tidbits to whet your appetite for 2019-20 Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball:

1.) Before the two have ever played in a game together, Kentucky sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley rates Nate Sestina, the graduate transfer forward from Bucknell, as “the best teammate I’ve ever played with.”

Asked at Kentucky’s 2019 men’s basketball Media Day Tuesday why he holds Sestina in such high esteem, Quickley listed two acts of culinary generosity.

“He made me breakfast one time,” Quickley says. “And he’s taken me out to lunch.”

Sharing food, Sestina discovered, is the path to earning Quickley’s regard.

“The dude eats all the time,” Sestina said.

QuickleyMediaDay.JPG
University of Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley (5) already rates graduate transfer forward Nate Sestina as “the best teammate I’ve ever played with.” Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

2.) Junior center Nick Richards believes better diet has helped him improve his level of physical fitness. That should allow him to play at a higher level for longer stretches in the coming season.

The biggest dietary change he has made, Richards reports, is that he no longer has chicken fingers from Raising Cane’s every night.

“It’s more like once a week now,” Richards says.

FRONTrichards
Junior center Nick Richards says an improved diet has contributed to his being in better shape for his third season with the Kentucky Wildcats. Caitlyn Stroh cstroh@herald-leader.com

3.) Unlike Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson, UK sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans did not go one-and-done off of last season’s Kentucky roster and into the 2019 NBA Draft.

His former Kentucky classmates wanted him to go pro with them, Hagans says.

“The guys (from) last year, they wanted me to enter (the Draft),” Hagans says. “But, talking to my parents, we had a different decision.”

Ashton Hagans at Media Day
Kentucky sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans says his former UK classmates Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson encouarged him to follow in their paths and enter the NBA Draft as a one-and-done player. “But, talking to my parents, we had a different decision,” Hagans says. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

4.) As former 10th Region rivals and AAU teammates, Kentucky freshmen Dontaie Allen (Pendleton County) and Brennan Canada (Clark County) are friends.

That bond in no way impedes “NBA 2K20” trash talk.

Canada “hasn’t beaten me once,” Allen says of their duels in the basketball simulation video game.

Responds Canada: “You need to go interview (Allen) again. (After) 2K20 came out, we played (our) first game. (Allen) went on his Instagram live because he was up two points with five seconds left. I caught the ball and hit a buzzer beater on his own Instagram live. He was pretty upset about that.”

190724Brennan Canada_09.JPG
Kentucky freshman forward Brennan Canada, the former Clark County standout, is a close friend of UK classmate Dontaie Allen. UK Athletics

5.) After Zan Payne missed all of last season while he rehabbed a major knee injury, the walk-on from Lexington Catholic is healthy for 2019-20.

His father, UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, was a 1,083-points career scorer in college at Louisville (1985-89) and played 144 career games with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.

Zan Payne is used to being asked if he can take his Dad, now 52, in a game of one-on-one.

“For sure, I’d win now that I’m not hurt,” Zan Payne said. “A lot of people asked me that (at UK Media Day) last year and I had to say no.”

payne.jpg
Former Lexington Catholic standout Zan Payne is healthy for Kentucky’s 2019-20 season after sitting out last year with a knee injury. Caitlyn Stroh

6.) Kentucky Coach John Calipari has challenged sophomore forward EJ Montgomery to attempt to model the changes former UK star PJ Washington made between his first and second seasons with the Wildcats.

After an uneven freshman year, Washington played at a star-level last year as a sophomore.

“”PJ, he worked so hard last year,” Montgomery said. “He tried to finish first in every sprint. He changed his body. That’s what (Calipari) tells me to do.”

EJ Montgomery
Kentucky sophomore EJ Montgomery has been challenged by Wildcats Coach John Calipari to make the same kind of jump between his first and second seasons at UK as PJ Washington, last season’s Cats star, produced. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

7.) I asked Zan Payne who off the UK roster had surprised him. He listed freshmen Keion Brooks and Tyrese Maxey.

“Keion, he came out really athletic, finishing at the rim really good,” Payne said. “And Tyrese can pass and play defense and, really, (do) everything.”

Keion Brooks
Kentucky freshman Keion Brooks has impressed one of his new teammates with his ability to get to the rim and finish. Caitlyn Stroh

8.) Someone asked Richards the craziest “Big Blue Nation” experience he has had while playing for Kentucky.

“I don’t know the dude’s name, but (Kentucky players) sign his leg, then he gets (the signature) tattooed,” Richards said. “That’s probably the craziest.”

9.) Sestina was asked to compare the circus that is Kentucky’s men’s basketball media day with what he experienced at his former school, Bucknell.

“At Bucknell, we had Media Day, but it wasn’t anything like this,” Sestina said as a large circle of reporters stood around him. “(At Bucknell), we had a couple of reporters that we all knew.”

Nate Sestina
Kentucky forward Nate Sestina, a graduate transfer from Bucknell, says UK Media Day was a bit more extravagant than what he was familiar with a his previous school. UK Athletics

10.) If food is the way to win friendship from Quickley, interrupting his attempt to sleep on an airplane is a way to jeopardize it.

Earlier in the summer, the guard from Maryland tweeted about being seated next to a curious Kentucky fan on a flight.

“I was trying to sleep. I think it was like an hour flight going to Baltimore,” Quickley recalled. “The (UK fan) asked me questions the whole flight home — the whole flight. I almost wanted to move my seat, but I had to hang in there.”

In retrospect, Quickley sees a silver lining in the experience — it prepared him for Media Day.

“I just answered all the questions, just like I am doing today,” he said, smiling.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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