For anyone who follows Kentucky basketball (which is pretty much anyone reading this website) it’s no secret that this weekend is massive for the future of the Wildcats. That’s because over the next three days Kentucky will host Immanuel Quickley, one of the top-ranked point guards in all of high school basketball on an official visit to campus. The Wildcats don’t have any players committed for the 2018 class to date – something that isn’t unusual for UK this time of year – meaning that the result of this weekend could have reverberations for this program in the short-term and long-term as well.
Obviously, most Kentucky fans are plenty familiar with Quickley by now, as the first player in the 2018 class to receiver a Kentucky scholarship offer, and also as someone who played for John Calipari on the Team USA U-19 team in Egypt this summer. But while ‘Cats fans have known of Quickley for some time now, many don’t know much about him. Which is why I decided to call up some people who do, to ask a couple simple questions: Who is Immanuel Quickley? And how would he fit in at Kentucky if he decides to commit?
Let’s start with the “who.” And when it comes to Immanuel Quickley, those who know him best can think of only one way to describe him.
“Immanuel Quickley is just different,” Jide Sodipo, the Director of Quickley’s AAU program, Team BBC said. “It’s tough to explain. I tell other coaches ‘you’ve just got to see it for yourself.’”
Sodipo should know. He is a man who has coached, scouted and covered Baltimore-area hoops for over 20 years, and has seen every relevant player during that stretch (including last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Markelle Fultz). He has also known about Quickley as long as virtually anyone in the area basketball scene, having first spotted him playing in the eighth grade. What Sodipo remembers most about that first encounter was that Quickley – who was tall for his age – was playing off the ball, with play-making duties left to his shorter teammates.
Even though Quickley had a knack for scoring, Sodipo saw something different for his future.
“I liked the way he played, but he wasn’t playing the point guard position,” Sodipo said. “I liked his court savvy and IQ, and I said ‘man, I think this kid can be a great point guard.”
— Overtime (@overtime) September 8, 2017
Quickley would prove Sodipo right, though not right away. Instead he served as a role player at John Carroll High School in Maryland during his freshman year, playing on a veteran-filled roster that included current Texas Longhorn Elijah Long, and Kimbal Mackenzie, who was an All-League performer at Bucknell a year ago.
He was happy to take a back-seat that first year, but Sodipo made sure that he wasn’t comfortable staying there, taking him on a college tour that summer that included stops at Duke and North Carolina. At each school Sodipo made sure he had Quickley stop in and meet the coaches, and also play pick-up with the players on campus. Whether the message was subliminal or not, the goal was simple: To help Quickley envision himself playing at that level. To let him know he was good enough to play at any school in the country.
“I wanted to, what I call ‘try and develop his mindset,’” Sodipo said. “You can tell someone ‘you can play at this level, you can do this.’ But when they actually see a place like that [and play against that competition] their mind-set changes.”
It certainly worked for Quickley, who used that summer to springboard into a breakout season the following year. As a sophomore at John Carroll Quickley led his team to 27 wins and the Baltimore Catholic League title, averaging 17 points and three assists per game. He also won the Baltimore area Player of the Year, after a slew of buzzer-beaters and game-winners, including in that year’s championship game.
“In my opinion,” Sodipo said. “He had one of the greatest high school seasons ever for a sophomore in Baltimore basketball history.”
And it was that season which helped Quickley evolve from “good local prospect” to “one of the best players in the country.” Immediately following the season Quickley became a hot commodity on the recruiting trail, receiving scholarship offers from virtually every major program in college basketball, including Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona and Villanova, a team which was fresh off a national championship at that point. Quickley was also one of the youngest players to make the Team USA U-17 team that year, helping a club which included future Kentucky Wildcat Kevin Knox win a gold medal in Spain. He followed it up with a second stint playing on Team USA this summer, this time under the watch of John Calipari.
In terms of the “big picture” with Quickley, he clearly has the skill of a top-ranked player, but what separates him from so many of his peers is that he’s got the intangibles to go with it. Pretty much everything he does he puts 100 percent into, according to those who know him best, whether it’s school (where he’s an honors student) or extra-curricular activities (he plays the drums in the church band).
That also extends to basketball, where his skill is matched with an insatiable will to get better.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of basketball players,” Sodipo said. “I have never been around a player that has the work ethic of Immanuel.”
That’s a stunning statement, and one that Sodipo gives further detail on.
“In the summer, he wakes up, goes to the gym and works out in the morning. Then he comes home, takes a shower, and comes back to the gym. He worked in the summer like pros do who are preparing for the NBA Draft.”
Beyond his work ethic is an intellectual understanding few players in the game have. That sentiment is echoed by the man who has coached him the last two summers.
“His initials, IQ, that’s what it stands for,” Zach Suber, Quickley’s coach with Team BBC said. “His basketball IQ is tremendous.”
To illustrate his point, Suber gives an example from this past summer, when Quickley was playing for Calipari on Team USA.
“We had practice while he was gone, and he said [through text] ‘hey coach, can you put this play in,’” Suber said. “And he texted me the whole play, where everybody goes, the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. He texted me everything. He was like ‘let’s put this in.’”
Suber did, and Team BBC ran it the rest of the summer.
Looking ahead, it’s getting to be decision time for the Quickley camp. The point guard has already visited Kansas, but as has been well-reported, a visit to Miami was postponed last weekend because of Hurricane Irma. Even despite it, Sodipo said that he still expects Quickley to make his decision sometime in the next few weeks before the start of the high school season. Quickley has been considered a Kentucky lean for some time now.
And if Quickley did commit to the Wildcats, Kentucky would be getting a complete point guard in every phase of the game. They would also be getting a great teammate as well, someone who is openly recruiting Zion Williamson to whatever school he chooses, and a player who would have no problem playing with other superstars according to those who know him best.
To prove that point, Sodipo shares another story, this one from Quickley’s early high school days.
Remember, Quickley had a quiet freshman year in high school playing behind those veterans, and during that time another freshman named Montez Mathis became a star at a nearby high school. Mathis (a Top 100 player now committed to Rutgers) eventually left for Oak Hill Academy, but after one disappointing season there decided to return home. During his time away however, Quickley had jumped Mathis as the top sophomore in all of Baltimore.
For Quickley it would have been easy to resent Mathis coming home, or at the very least, not acknowledge a player who’d fallen behind him in the rankings. Instead, he delivered a message to Sodipo: He should tell Mathis to join him at John Carroll, where – to steal a line from the NBA – they could form a “super team.”
Mathis has been at the school the last two years.
“In my mind, I’ve never been around a kid that’s doing his thing, who’s considered the best player, and now wants to bring in another star player like that,” Sodipo said.
He paused and continued.
“Like I said, Immanuel Quickley is just different.”
Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”