I don’t know what John Calipari and the Kentucky basketball program will be getting in Immanuel Quickley next season. Quickley has all the potential and the accolades of Calipari’s other star point guards before him, but if you want me to tell you how good he will be, I simply cannot do that. Your guess is as good as mine, although I expect we’ll all be very pleased when he suits up for the Cats next fall.
I can, however, tell you what kind of person John Calipari and the Kentucky basketball program will be getting next season. After traveling all the way to Maryland to meet Quickley and watch him play, I learned more about him off the court than I did on it.
So let’s throw out the basketball talk — which was originally the entire purpose of this piece when I hopped on a flight to Baltimore — and let’s get to what I saw in my brief time around Quickley at the John Carroll School.
Next year Kentucky will be getting a 6-3 point guard who never misses church on Sunday. For an 18-year-old kid already balancing the workload of his senior year of high school and a rigorous basketball schedule, Quickley is at Highway Holiness every Sunday. He has to be there, because, if he’s not, who will play the drums during the service?
Quickley’s musical talents don’t stop with the drumsticks; he also played saxophone for the school marching band before devoting all of his free time to basketball. He used to play the piano too.
When Quickley suits up for Kentucky next season, he’ll also be bringing a huge support system with him. I knew he had a big fan club when I walked into the game in front of his grandparents, Marion and Ellen Hamilton, who were excited to show off their t-shirts.
Marion Hamilton filmed every second of the game on his iPad from the top row of the bleachers. Ellen sat a few rows down from him, leading the cheers from centercourt.
But the Hamiltons weren’t the only two fans with their own custom t-shirts in the John Carroll gymnasium, and they weren’t the loudest fans, either. That honor goes to Quickley’s aunt, Demetria, who split her time between sitting in the family section and standing courtside in front of the student section, holding a cardboard cut-out. She was Quickley’s most recognizable cheerleader, and her game day shirt cannot be topped.
I spoke to Demetria after the game and she couldn’t have been nicer. The same can be said of his grandparents, who also went out of their way to talk to a complete stranger from Kentucky after the game. They may be new to Big Blue Nation, but I don’t know if you’ll find a group of people more excited about the Wildcats next fall.
Then there is Mama Quickley, Nitrease.
Nitrease Quickley is a school teacher and she too couldn’t have been nicer in our brief meeting after her son’s game. We spoke a little about how excited she is for her many trips to Lexington next season to watch Immanuel play in Rupp Arena; then she turned and introduced me to yet another group of proud friends and relatives, who are also eager to be new members of the BBN.
All of these people I speak of, I assume, are why Immanuel Quickley came across as such a nice, well-rounded, church-going 18-year-old high school senior, and not too full of himself, like some others his age with his hype and expectations — which is why I think Cal is getting another good kid to represent our favorite basketball program.
As for the actual game, which is why I was there, Quickley struggled to hit shots, but was an unselfish leader on the court. Unfortunately, his unselfishness was not always rewarded with a made basket; otherwise he would’ve had about 20 assists in the 84-59 win over the outmatched Archbishop Spalding of Severn, Md.
But it was clear he is very vocal on the floor and has a knack for finding his teammates, willingly.
The leadership and passing were refreshing to see as Coach Cal struggles to get his current team to communicate and share the ball back in Lexington, although I wish Quickley had shot the ball a little better this particular night. After all, he considers shooting the best part of his game. He told me, “My biggest strength right now is my shooting. It came a long way. I wasn’t always a shooter. I got in the lane a lot, but I think to round out my full game, shooting has been a big part of it.”
He also told me he began to see the changes in his game once he suited up for the local AAU program, Team BBC, and committed himself to improving as he moved into a more prominent role on his high school team.
“I started separating myself around my sophomore year, especially playing with Team BBC,” he said. “I got in the gym a lot that year and started working on my game. Big colleges starting coming after me soon after that.”
Kentucky was on him early, and Calipari made him the first point guard in the 2018 class to have a scholarship offer from UK, when he offered him in October of his junior year. Once he got to know Calipari and the UK staff, it didn’t take a lot of convincing for Cal to land the signature.
“He really didn’t have to convince me,” said Quickley. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, and what I want to do is be a pro. He told me: if you stay on the right track and work hard and stay disciplined, it’s not going to be easy, but keeping working hard and you can get there.”
Quickley prides himself on his hard work; it was the first thing out of his mouth when I asked him to describe his game. His full evaluation of his game was, “I’m somebody who is going to work hard from Day 1, a leader, somebody that can get everybody involved, but also scoring when I need to and play defense. Just play hard every possession.”
If he brings all of that to Kentucky next fall, Cal will have another good point guard on the roster.
And there will be a lot of good people coming with him… in screen-printed t-shirts, with iPads in hand.