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How can Immanuel Quickey take a step forward as a sophomore?

How can Immanuel Quickey take a step forward as a sophomore?

When Kentucky signee Tyrese Maxey committed to the school back in May of 2020, many penciled the 6-foot-3 dynamic scorer in as a guaranteed starter for the 2019-20 roster. And then when starting point guard Ashton Hagans made the surprisingly-quick decision to return for his sophomore season in April, he locked himself in as a starter, as well.

With most of the (admittedly-deserved) attention on Maxey and Hagans for the backcourt next season, where does former five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley fit into the equation?

Averaging 5.2 points on 37.2% shooting and 34.5% from three to go with 1.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per contest last season, the 6-foot-3 guard’s numbers certainly don’t jump off the page on first glance. In fact, in 15 of his 37 total games the Havre De Grace, MD native finished with three points or less for the Wildcats.

On the flip side, Quickley also managed scoring totals of 15, 12 (four times), 10, 9, and 8 (three times) throughout his freshman season, along with several clutch moments at the end of games at the free throw line and from beyond the arc. Some would even argue that between Hagans and Quickley, the latter was the better all-around player toward the end of the season.

Unless you’re one of the few elite prospects we see year after year (and even sometimes if you are), there are growing pains and inconsistencies for true freshmen at the college level. Quickley fell right in line with that common theme.

Now that we’re on to year two for the former five-star prospect, how can he find his groove consistently this season and shine as the consensus top-25 recruit he came to Lexington as last season?

Keep developing confidence as a shooter

While he certainly hit some big shots from three on occasion last season, Quickley has the potential and ability to be a consistent knockdown shooter in the Kentucky backcourt moving forward.

Next to Tyrese Maxey, who is also expected to be an elite shooter next season, the Wildcats can put out lineups that absolutely torch opposing teams from deep in 2019-20. Quickley would certainly be included in that.

In fact, Calipari can roll out a pure-shooting group of Maxey, Quickley, Johnny Juzang, Nate Sestina, and EJ Montgomery at times, where each participant has the ability to knock down open jumpers at a consistent rate from three. In fact, one could argue every one those individuals has the potential to shoot at least 30% from three next year, with Maxey, Quickley, and Juzang all capable of shooting 38% or higher.

Quickley has already had eight games with two or more 3-pointers on 50% shooting (or higher), but his per-game ceiling is far greater than that. 34.5% certainly keeps defenders honest, but he has the ability to push upwards of 40% at a consistent clip. Confidence is the only thing limiting him from reaching that point.

When he finds his shot, he’s money on open opportunities both off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations. When that confidence slips, we see poor shooting displays such as Auburn (1-6), Abilene Christian (0-3), LSU (1-4), and at Florida (1-5).

The potential is there, he just needs to keep building his confidence to get to that point.

Look to be a facilitator

Back at the adidas Gauntlet Finale in Spartanburg, SC in 2017, Quickley was easily one of the most impressive prospects in attendance. In fact, his head-to-head matchup with Zion Williamson at the time was one of the most highly-anticipated games of the entire weekend, where Quickley’s Team BBC squad defeated Williamson’s SC Supreme 68-64. The Wildcat guard posted 20 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, while Williamson finished with 28 points and 16 rebounds in the loss.

While Quickley stuffed the stat sheet in that event and throughout his entire AAU career, the most impressive aspect of his game had nothing to do with his impressive shooting stroke or his ability to finish in the lane. It was the ridiculous court vision and passing ability he possessed that really turned heads. In fact, I would contend that if he had more talent around him on Team BBC, he could have averaged upwards of 12 or 13 assists per contest on the AAU circuit. One of the most frustrating parts of watching the Wildcat guard play was that he would pull off tremendous passes and find his teammates open time and time again, they would just miss the shots.

At Kentucky, Quickley mostly relied on catch-and-shoot opportunities to assert himself in the offense, completely ignoring one of his most impressive attributes. In year two, the UK point guard needs to continue to find his shot, but he can truly be a difference-maker from game one as a facilitator.

With ridiculous depth from top to bottom of the roster, opportunities for assists are there this season. He never finished with more than four assists in a single game last year, but I expect that to change this season.

Continue to get to the line

Quickley was inconsistent at times from a shooting perspective last year, but one thing that never changed was his ridiculous ability to knock down shots at the free throw line at an elite rate.

Shooting 83% from the line last year, Quickley was easily one of the most reliable players on the team, specifically when games went down to the wire. With the 6-foot-3 point guard in the lineup in the closing seconds, you could always rely on him to come through in the clutch in high-pressure moments. In fact, the only reason why his elite ability at the line wasn’t more publicized was because Kentucky just-so-happened to have the greatest free throw shooter in Kentucky history, Tyler Herro, on the roster and in the game down the stretch last year.

In 37 games last year, Quickley only missed 11 total free throws. In his sophomore season, he needs to continue to force the situation and get to the line more often. With Herro off to the NBA, they’ll likely need him on multiple occasions in 2019-20.


via John Young on Instagram

Football commit John Young on recruiting: “We’re going to have a really big summer”

@the_johnyoung

Four-star offensive lineman John Young joined Matt Jones in the Hey Kentucky! studio Friday afternoon, and the future Cat gave us some insight into his college decision and what’s coming this summer for UK football recruiting.

Young says he took several visits during his recruitment, including stops at Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan, Purdue, Louisville and Auburn. But, after all of those visits, the University of Kentucky still felt like home.

“The coaching staff has been patient with recruiting, and they’ve gotten steadily better every year with their success. With success, comes good recruiting,” Young said. “When you’ve got a staff like that, that’s so personable… with them building a family atmosphere as well as having success on the field, that is just a recipe for some good recruiting.”

And Young doesn’t think that good recruiting mojo is going anywhere.

“In the coming weeks, I think we’re going to have a really big summer. I think we’re in a really good spot with some receivers, a couple running backs and a certain safety from the state as well.”

The safety he’s referring to is certainly four-star Bowling Green native Vito Tisdale, especially since Young confirmed with Matt he was talking about someone whose father has “Nappy Roots” ties. Tisdale’s crystal ball currently has Kentucky listed as a 60% favorite, with Louisville at a 30% and Oklahoma at 10%. Young’s recruiting pitches may be working.

Young might have also been referencing Izayah Cummings, a three-star wide receiver from Louisville Male High School. He’s clearly still working on that recruiting pitch, too.

via John Young on Instagram

Even though helping bring in the state’s top talent isn’t necessarily a primary goal for most fellow high schoolers, Young says it’s a position he’s come to enjoy.

“It’s been great. I love being able to talk to all these guys and kind of get to know them better and see what they’re thinking. Everybody I’ve talked to… I haven’t talked to anybody who hasn’t had anything but good things to say about Kentucky.”

Here’s a look at the entire Hey Kentucky! interview.


BREAKING: The SEC has lifted ban on stadium-wide alcohol sales

Massive news in the world of college sports this afternoon.

According to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, the SEC has officially lifted its ban on stadium-wide alcohol sales, with its effective start date being August 1.

While there will be restrictions, the decades-old bylaw prohibiting SEC schools from selling alcohol in general seating areas at athletic venues is no more. The general guidelines limit sales exclusively to beer and wine. Vendors will be restricted from selling alcohol inside the stands.

@RossDellenger

Last season, Arizona, Oregon, Boston College, Oklahoma State, and Colorado allowed alcohol sales in both general seating and premium areas, while Illinois, Rutgers, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech will be doing the same this fall. Over 55 Football Bowl Subdivision programs also serve alcohol throughout their respective stadiums.

According to a report by Sports Illustrated last weekend, “many” of those schools and venues made the change due to the opportunity for “an additional revenue stream, fewer reported binge drinking incidents and an enhanced game-day experience that boosts attendance.”

With the SEC’s attendance average of 73,994 being the lowest since 2002 and nearly 5,000 below the conference average in 2015, there were several rumors that this was a strong possibility during the league’s annual spring meetings in Destin, Florida this week.

Now, it’s official, as the SEC will now give member schools permission to sell alcohol to all fans at games. Each school can make its own decision on whether they want to do so.

Ready or not, alcohol is likely coming to Kroger Field, Rupp Arena, Kentucky Proud Park, and the rest of the SEC athletic facilities starting in August.

(Sports Illustrated)


Kentucky Football’s Blue-Chip Effect

With the commitment of Justin Rogers now on the books for the class of 2020, Kentucky landed their 28th blue-chip prospect (four or five-star ranking) in the Mark Stoops era. Playing in the SEC, Kentucky is always going to be fighting an uphill talent when it comes to the recruiting game, but Stoops and recruiting ace Vince Marrow have helped close the gap.

When Kentucky lands a top notch prospect, it is imperative that they are spot on with their evaluation and are able to develop the player to get him on the field to be a contributor to the team. Early on in the Stoops era, we saw Kentucky miss on some guys and attrition took some out of the program. This played into the fact that it took Kentucky four years to finally post a winning record.

In the first two recruiting classes, Kentucky reeled in nine blue-chip prospects and only Za’Darius Smith became a draft pick. The cornerstone of the first class was Jason Hatcher and the Louisville Trinity alum was dismissed from the team following his sophomore season. Drew Barker and Matt Elam were hailed as big time recruiting wins, but neither could become a full-time starter at Kentucky. Boom Williams, despite not getting drafted, was very successful at the college level. The highest rated wide receiver Kentucky has landed was Thaddeus Snodgrass and the member of the 2014 class transferred to the Division III level after not making an impact at UK.

Where it all began to change for the program was with the class of 2015 despite it being the lowest ranked recruiting haul of the Stoops era. The highest rated commit was Eli Brown who would transfer to WKU after three seasons to what appeared to be a family decision. After that there were not many misses. C.J. Conrad was the only other blue-chip and he was a four-year starter and a third-team All-SEC performer his junior season. Josh Allen and George Asafo-Adjei became draft picks and it looks like Logan Stenberg will be too in the 2020 draft.

Following the 2015 class, Kentucky came through with a very strong instate haul in 2016. Kash Daniel, Drake Jackson, and Landon Young each became quality starters and will be integral parts for the 2019 team. Each will have a shot at all-conference honors while Young has the size and skillset to turn into a day one NFL Draft selection. This began a very hot run of hits on blue-chippers.

The class of 2017 has a very strong chance to become the best signing group of the Stoops era and it starts with the star power. That year Kentucky reeled in five blue-chip prospects headlined by Lynn Bowden. The junior bursted onto the scene last season and all signs point towards a monster junior season. After that, Joshua Paschal, Tyrell Ajian, and Yusuf Corker have all played a reserve role on defense after each taking a redshirt season. It’s clear that they will be a big part of the defense moving forward. UK lost Ja’Vonte Richardson after one season when the big bodied receiver moved to junior college.

This past season we saw Kentucky continue this hot streak. Chris Oats started one game and flashed signs of future stardom in a reserve role. He’ll be a day one starter this season. Darian Kinnard joined the offensive line rotation as a true freshman and he’ll be RT1 entering his sophomore year. Marquan McCall flashed signs of potential and if he’s able to stay in playing shape he’ll be an excellent nose man in UK’s 3-4 scheme.

In the class of 2019, Kentucky was able to have more defensive success by pulling in edge prospects Jared Casey and JJ Weaver out of Louisville in addition to Ohio safety and legacy recruit Moses Douglass. Kentucky continues to add some big time line of scrimmage talent in the class of 2019 with Lamar Goods and John Young on the board with Justin Rogers.

We’re seeing Kentucky turning their top recruits into big time players and that is a very good sign.

The Kentucky football program is as hot as it has ever been on the recruiting trail and it looks like the staff will continue to reel in four-star prospects. In the last two seasons, we’ve seen Kentucky land two major transfers (Ahmad Wagner and Xavier Peters) who were both top-300 recruits out of high school. It will be vital for Kentucky to have a strong hit rate on these players because that is how you turn 7-8 wins into 9-10 wins with consistent top 25 finishes.

With that said, Kentucky’s success is always going to be related to how they evaluate three-star prospects. For every blue-chip there is going to be a couple three-stars and Kentucky must continue to develop these types of players. They’ve had a ton of success with this in the past (Benny Snell, Josh Allen, Bunch Stallings, Josh Forrest, Jordan Jones, etc.) and that will need to continue in the future.


Kerry Blackshear Jr. withdraws from the NBA Draft

Glenn Beil | USA TODAY Sports

It’s already been a big day for Kentucky’s 2019-20 roster thanks to EJ Montgomery’s decision to return for a sophomore seasonand the night is far from over. Kerry Blackshear just made things even more interesting.

The Virginia Tech grad transfer just announced he has withdrawn from the NBA Draft, meaning he’ll be eligible to compete on the collegiate level next season. Blackshear made the announcement on Instagram.

“After taking the time to weigh my options, I have decided to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft. I am still evaluating my options for my last year of eligibility and feel extremely fortunate to be in the position that I am in. I look forward to continuing my education and earning a Master’s degree while competing in the sport that I love as I continue working toward my goal of playing professionally.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Kerry Blackshear (@kjblack15) on

Blackshear, listed at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, was a second team All-ACC selection last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He also led the Hokies with 28 blocked shots and ranked third with 83 assists. He entered his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal after Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams left for the Texas A&M job, and ESPN named him the No. 1 ranked college basketball transfer on the market. 

Several insiders predicted Blackshear would leave his name in the Draft or even try his hand at the G League, even though he wasn’t one of the players invited to this year’s NBA Combine. On the other hand, Blackshear was high on Kentucky’s list after announcing his decision to transfer, and the UK staff met with him right away. At one point, Kentucky even seemed like the favorite in the grad transfer’s recruitment. Now, could a Montgomery-Richards-Sestina front court hurt the Cats’ chances?

It’s important to acknowledge his decision to withdraw from the Draft does not necessarily mean Blackshear is heading to Lexington, as he clearly states he’s still evaluating his options. Other contenders include Florida, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Tennessee and Texas A&M, or he could decide to return to Virginia Tech. However, with the NBA officially out of the picture, he could be Kentucky’s to lose.


OFFICIAL: UK and Montgomery CONFIRM a sophomore season

OFFICIAL: UK and Montgomery CONFIRM a sophomore season

It’s official!

Reports of an EJ Montgomery return were released a few minutes before 6:00 ET Wednesday afternoon, but things weren’t necessarily official until Montgomery eventually confirmed the news himself. He made the announcement on Instagram.

“Hey Big Blue Nation: I just want to say thanks for all you’ve done for me and my family. I enjoyed putting on a Kentucky uniform with my brothers and playing in front of the best fans in the nation. I appreciate your support for me and my team this season.”

“I want to say thanks to Coach Cal, Coach KP, Coach Joel, Coach Robic [and] Coach Barbee for pushing me every single day to be the best I can be on and off the court. I got to compete against the best of the best everyday in practice. We had a good season on the court because of our love for the grind. I’m proud of what we accomplished together. BBN, I’m back – year two.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Year 2????

A post shared by Ej Montgomery (@_mont23) on

The folks with UK confirmed the news soon after his video was posted.

John Calipari also weighed in, saying Montgomery has only “begun to scratch the surface of his potential.”

“I’m thrilled to be able to continue to coach EJ. He has a special skillset and he’s only begun to scratch the surface of his potential,” Calipari said in the press release. “EJ knows how hard this is going to be, and I know he’s ready to embrace the grind and do everything he can for this team while continuing to develop into the best version of himself.”

Calipari also acknowledged it was a tough choice for Montgomery and his family.

“When EJ and his family set out to go through this NBA Draft process, I told EJ he had my full support no matter what he decided,” Calipari said. “I know this was a tough decision for EJ and his family because of the positive feedback he received throughout this process. EJ improved so much during the season and I know how much he wants to show our fans what he can do with another year.”

Let’s go.


REPORT: EJ Montgomery will RETURN to Kentucky for sophomore season

EJ Montgomery will return to Lexington next year for a sophomore season with John Calipari and the University of Kentucky, according to NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski.

It clearly came down to the wire, but Montgomery ultimately decided a second lap around Rupp Arena is the best move for himself and his future career.

Last season, the freshman averaged 3.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, while totaling 38 total blocks, 16 steals and 15 assists.

We still haven’t received any official news from Montgomery himself or from the University, but Woj typically knows what he’s talking about. We’ll have more as the story develops.

*UPDATE*

Jeff Goodman has also announced Montgomery’s pending return.


Five reasons to be excited for Junior Nick Richards

This afternoon, Sophomore Nick Richards officially graduated to Junior Nick Richards, as the 6-foot-11 center announced he would be returning to Kentucky for another season.

“These past two years have been the best of my life,” Richards said in a press release. “It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve learned a lot, but the job’s not done yet. BBN, are you ready for year three?”

We know it’s a big decision for the Wildcats and the layout of the 2019-20 roster, but why?

Here are five reasons why Kentucky fans should be excited about Richard sticking around for another season in Lexington:

It was a necessity

Before we get into the specifics of what Richards brings to the table as a player, the fact of the matter is that Kentucky needed a body in the frontcourt, and they needed one badly.

We’re still waiting on a decision from freshman forward EJ Montgomery, but looking at the roster as it currently stands, they are loaded in the backcourt and incredibly thin up front. Before Richards made his decision today, Bucknell graduate transfer Nate Sestina (6-foot-9) was the only confirmed scholarship player on the roster listed as taller than 6-foot-7.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari has flirted with small-ball lineups as of late, and he certainly has the tools to utilize them a lot more next season with Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. both being solid post threats. Having just one legitimate big man, though, is far too risky going into the year.

If Montgomery leaves for the NBA Draft, Kentucky would still like one more piece to add to the frontcourt, with Kerry Blackshear Jr. being the obvious replacement option. If the Virginia Tech forward stays in the draft, that would leave the UK coaching staff scouring the graduate transfer market (slim pickings) and/or forcing their hand to convince a 2020 prospect or two to reclassify to 2019.

One more piece is certainly doable. Adding two solid contributors this late in the game, though? That’s an awful lot of pressure on the coaching staff.

With Richards now back for a junior campaign, the Cats have a bit of flexibility and far less weight on their shoulders to hit a home run to close out the 2019-20 roster.

Potential for spike in production

As much as Kentucky needed Richards to return from a pure numbers standpoint, it’s also important to factor in that we could see a massive jump in the 6-foot-11 center’s game next season.

Looking at Willie Cauley-Stein’s statistics from his time in Lexington, specifically during his phenomenal junior campaign, the 7-footer managed PER-40 numbers of 13.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per contest. Taking an even deeper look, Cauley-Stein finished with an offensive rating (points scored or produced per 100 possessions) of 119.8 and a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 80.

As for Richards last year, the sophomore big man had PER-40 totals of 13.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 4.2 blocks per game to go with an offensive rating of 123.1 and a defensive rating of 93.4.

Obviously Cauley-Stein was the superior player and was a consensus First-Team All-American and National Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, but Richards is no chopped liver.

When he announced he was returning to school this afternoon, John Calipari said that he believes Richards could be the best big man in the nation.

In fact, he expects it.

“I’m excited to continue to coach Nick because I know how special he can be,” he said. “I’ve told him, ‘If you come back, I’m expecting you to be one of the best big men in the country.’ There is no reason he can’t be. There is nothing that Nick hasn’t seen at this point, and he knows what my expectations are for him in his junior season. I want him to dominate the game and affect it on every single possession.”

With confidence, Richards has proven he can be that dominant player. He’s had point totals of 25, 14, 12, 11, and 10 (five times), rebound totals of 19, 15 (twice), nine (twice), and eight (five times), and has finished with two or more blocks 21 times in two seasons as a Wildcat.

We joked a lot about “Sophomore Nick Richards” last year, but if he can combine his natural gifts as a pure athlete with just a slight bit of confidence in his abilities, the forward out of Kingston, Jamaica can be a high-impact player for Kentucky next season.

Style of play

As mentioned earlier, Coach Cal toyed with small-ball lineups a bit last season, and judging by how he has constructed his roster with long, athletic wings, he’s interested in doing something similar this season. In fact, sources have told KSR that the Kentucky head coach is trying to go back to his four-out Dribble Drive system this season and play in the open floor as much as possible.

Richards is the perfect big man to make that happen.

The current roster is loaded with players that thrive in transition and are comfortable making plays with the ball in their hands. Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Johnny Juzang, Whitney, Brooks Jr., and Dontaie Allen are all stellar at grabbing rebounds and/or loose balls and just taking off. With Sestina having the ability to knock down deep jumpers at a consistent rate, the only obvious hole on the team was a rim running big with the ability to run the floor, catch lobs, and defend the paint.

Richards is that guy.

He was compared to Cauley-Stein as a high school recruit, and unfortunately, we’ve only seen flashes of that in his first two years in Lexington. In his third, the fit is perfect for Richards to finally unlock some of that hidden potential.

Experience

This is an easy point to make, but it’s always an important and valuable one.

In two years, Richards has been to a Sweet 16 and an Elite Eight. He’s had his ups and downs as a player, but he knows what it takes to win basketball games in the SEC and in postseason play.

We’ve seen sophomores like PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel, Isaiah Briscoe, and Tyler Ulis play major roles in recent memory, and we’ve also had graduate transfers such as Reid Travis, Julius Mays, and now Nate Sestina provide guidance as college basketball veterans. That being said, we rarely see third-year players with two full seasons under their belt in Lexington with the ability to provide that much-needed leadership in the locker room. In fact, this is the first time in three years that Kentucky has had a scholarship junior on the roster.

To take it a step further, it’s entirely possible that Kentucky boasts a starting lineup with a true freshman (Maxey, Whitney), sophomore (Hagans), junior (Richards), and senior (Sestina) next season.

Keeping Richards around for another year was huge for team chemistry and overall leadership.

Time for more phenomenal quotes

During his first season at Kentucky, Richards told KSR at UK Media Day that he enjoyed sitting in the dark in his free time. No television, no phone, no distractions, nothing.

“Nick Richards, he loves to sit in the dark. I don’t know why,” former UK point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said in 2017. “A lot of times when I go to his room, he’s just in the dark. His blinds are always down, he just loves the dark. I don’t understand why.”

When asked for his response, the Kentucky center had no rebuttal.

“Yeah, I do,” Richards said. “(I don’t meditate, either), I just… Whenever I’m by myself, I love sitting in the dark. It’s just how I’ve been since I was a little kid. I didn’t really like being around lights that much. I guess that’s a bad habit of mine.”

(Proof is HERE if you don’t believe me)

And then oddly enough, when Drew Franklin asked him about it this past season, Richards acted like he had no idea what he was talking about. Whether he dropped the habit, forgot he ever did it, or just lied, the quote was an absolute gem.

Fast forward to the end of this past season, Richards gave us yet another fascinating quote during the NCAA Tournament that certainly made headlines.

Prior to Kentucky’s Round of 32 matchup with Wofford, the Wildcat big man said the UK frontcourt was simply “better than them overall.”

“It’s a really good advantage for us,” he said. “They’re not really as athletic. … Their bigs are really skilled around the basket, they know how to move on the floor, but we’re just better than them overall, I think, so the advantage is our way, in my opinion.”

Probably wasn’t the best idea to give the Terriers locker room material with the season on the line, but it was priceless either way.

Hopefully a confidence boost this offseason will provide more great quotes and even better on-court performances.

Welcome back, Sophomore Junior Nick Richards.