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SportKentucky basketball: Immanuel Quickley should not be overlooked

19:05  12 june  2019
19:05  12 june  2019 Source:

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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.

LEXINGTON – It is the unfortunate reality for some Kentucky basketball returners.

Just a year removed from arriving on campus with the hype that accompanies a five-star recruiting rating, UK sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley now finds himself as something of an afterthought in the public discussions about the 2019-20 Kentucky basketball roster.

Just don't suggest Quickley is being forgotten to his teammates.

“He’s a great player,” sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans said. “You all saw him do some big things last year, knock down some big free throws, get some big rebounds. He’s a great player. He can shoot the rock very well, get to the basket very well. He can defend. He’s a big part of this team. Without him, we probably wouldn’t have made it as far as we wanted to last year. For Immanuel, we’re just going to need him to play a big role this year.”

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Kentucky basketball: Immanuel Quickley should not be overlooked© Provided by Gannett Co., Inc.

It was the emergence of Hagans last season that contributed to Quickley’s current role.

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Quickley started seven of Kentucky’s first eight games as a freshman before ceding the starting point guard spot to Hagans. He finished the season as the Wildcats’ most productive reserve, averaging 5.2 points in 18.5 minutes per game but faces an uphill climb to move back into the starting lineup as a sophomore even after the departure of guards Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson.

Freshman Tyrese Maxey is considered a lock to start in one of the backcourt spots alongside Hagans. Calipari could start Hagans, Maxey and Quickley together. But in the event the UK coach decides to start three guards, freshman Johnny Juzang might be the more likely option to play the three thanks to his 6-foot-7 frame and stellar 3-point shooting ability.

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If Calipari follows his normal strategy with two traditional post players in the starting lineup from the group of EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards and Nate Sestina, the three spot seems likely to go to one of freshman 6-foot-8 forwards Kahlil Whitney or Keion Brooks. Should Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear pick Kentucky, he would almost certainly start at the five with one of the other bigs — probably Montgomery — at the four.

Those scenarios leave Quickley coming off the bench for Kentucky again, but his ability to play on or off the ball should make him an important piece of the rotation regardless.

“He’s gotten better,” Calipari said of Quickley. “I expect him to have a breakout year. He did some really good stuff last year.”

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As a freshman, Quickley shot 34.5% (30 for 87) from 3-point range and 82.8% (53 for 64) from the free-throw line. He proved capable of taking big shots when needed, making 17 of 19 free throws in the final five minutes or overtime of single-digit games and hitting several key 3-pointers throughout the Wildcats’ run to the Elite Eight.

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To hear Calipari tell it, building confidence from those successes might be key to Quickley carving out a larger role.

“A lot of this for these young kids is just a mentality you have to have,” Calipari said. “You miss a shot, amnesia, next (one), ‘I’m playing.’ But it’s hard when you’re young like these kids.”

While Quickley acknowledged he needed to sit down with his family to consider his future plans in the immediate aftermath of Kentucky’s season-ending loss to Auburn, he wasted little time in making a decision, announcing his return less than two weeks later.

Quickley was not considered an NBA draft prospect for 2019, so any thoughts of leaving Kentucky likely would have centered on whether the possibility of being passed over by the latest crop of five-star freshmen might make his best path to a professional career elsewhere. Speaking to reporters last week, Quickley welcomed the challenge of returning to UK though.

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“I kind of knew what I wanted to do,” he said. “Was kind of focused on really getting better this summer, so I didn’t want to waste any time playing around with the process or anything. Just wanted to kind of get it out of the way.”

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The 2018–19 Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team represents the University of Kentucky in the 2018–19 NCAA Division I men's basketball season.

Immanuel Quickley played for the USA Basketball U19 team over the summer. UK freshmen Hamidou Diallo and PJ Washington were Quickley’s teammates on the USA Basketball U19 squad earlier this year — a team coached by John Calipari — and the two Kentucky players came away

Calipari applauded Quickley’s attitude — “He’s one of the great teammates,” the UK coach said — and singled out the progress the Maryland native made as a defender during his freshman season.

Quickley’s presence on the court and in the locker room alongside the three other returning UK scholarship players should allow the UK freshman more time to ease into college basketball than some recent Kentucky seasons. Only Hagans played more minutes in the NCAA Tournament among UK’s returners than Quickley last season. Calipari has rarely enjoyed the luxury of one point guard who knows his system, let alone two.

And even if Quickley opens the year in a bench role as expected, fans would be wise to not discount his importance to the roster.

“Ready to compete,” Quickley said. “That’s why you come to Kentucky: to play against the best. Pickup has been really good. Hopefully practice will be even better. Just get the best out of each and every player.”

Jon Hale: [email protected]; Twitter: @JonHale_CJ. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today:

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky basketball: Immanuel Quickley should not be overlooked

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