Monday’s are generally about getting a fresh start, and that’s certainly the case in college basketball today, where programs, coaches and players are picking up the pieces after last week gave us the beginning stages of one of the biggest scandals in college sports history. For some schools, it’s about looking for a new head coach, for others, simply about evaluating their program internally and externally. For quite a few others, it’s just about proceeding with business as usual.
In terms of life at Kentucky, this week is about two different things. On the one hand, the staff is planning for the season ahead, getting ready for a daunting five-month stretch, against a daunting schedule, in which the Wildcats will field the youngest team John Calipari has ever coached (which is a helluva statement when you think about it). On the other hand, these next few weeks are also about continuing to put together the school’s 2018 recruiting class, one built around star point guard Immanuel Quickley.
That’s right, as it easy as it is to forget, Quickley committed to Kentucky just a few days before last week’s scandal broke, and before all the madness involving the FBI’s raid pushed every other college basketball story in America to the back-burner. Quickley’s decision also came just a few days after taking an official visit to Kentucky.
In assessing that official visit however, and what made him decide to Kentucky, ironically little had to do with basketball. Instead, it had to do with everything but basketball, according to Jide Sodipo, the founder of Quickley’s AAU program Team BBC, who accompanied the point guard and his family on the trip.
“We went last year on an unofficial for Big Blue Madness, so we had a pretty good feel on all the basketball stuff,” Sodipo said. “But the official is for trying to learn about all the non-basketball aspects of it. Like I’ve said to anyone I’ve spoken with, his mother is a teacher. She’s an educator. She’s very big into academics. [Whether it’s an] official visit to Kentucky, Kansas, anywhere, our main goal was to find out more [about the academics].”
Yes, academics. While talk about school and coursework sometimes feels hollow in the recruiting world (especially for a player who may only play a year or two of college basketball before turning pro) the academics were in fact an important of Quckley’s final decision to choose Kentucky. As Sodipo mentioned, Quickley’s mother is a school teacher, and the five-star point guard also boosts a high school GPA well above 3.0. He is also taking several honors courses this year, meaning that he’ll enter Kentucky with college credits and could — depending on how much he wants to load up on classes during summer and the school year — complete his college degree in two to three years.
Therefore, as important as John Calipari’s pitch was to the Quickley family, the pitch of Director of Academic Services Mike Stone was equally as important. He laid out what would be expected of Quickley (who plans to major in pre-communications when he gets to Kentucky), as well as what Quickley will need to do to get on track to earn that degree as quickly (sorry for the terrible pun) as possible.
“I think Mike Stone was their [Kentucky’s] best recruiter,” Sodipo said. “When I say he loves the student-athletes of Kentucky, he was the best recruiter all weekend. With all due respect to Coach Cal, the enthusiasm from Mike Stone, the goals, the plan he has in place [was excellent]. Not only is he talking about it, he has a plan in place, he has a plan that works, he gives you details. He basically lets you know that when your son comes on campus, he’s going to be like my [Stone’s] son. He’s going to push you.”
But while academics were the focus, make no mistake, there was talk of basketball too. Quickley has known Calipari’s pitch for years, first from being recruited, and also from playing for him last summer with the Team USA U-19 team in Egypt. Calipari has repeated his signature phrase “Kentucky isn’t for everyone” over and over throughout the recruitment with Quickley, a term which essentially means “if you’re not willing to work hard, don’t come to Kentucky.”
It was that message that sold Quickley, hook, line and sinker, along with all the academic components. As Sodipo previously told KSR, Quickley is one of the hardest workers he’s ever been around (an incredible phrase when you remember he worked with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Markelle Fultz) and that was another element that led to the decision.
“You have to be a competitor to go to Kentucky,” Sodipo said. “You have to be able to hold your own. You have to be willing to compete every day. Practice is going to be tougher than a game. You’re going to have to be willing to play against the best of the best… For Immanuel, the kind of player he is, [his willingness to work] that’s the best thing about him.”
AND I ROCK KENTUCKY BLUEðŸ”µâšªï¸ pic.twitter.com/tnD0nxGOv9
— Immanuel Quickley (@IQ_GodSon) September 22, 2017
With the visit behind them, the Quickley’s returned to Baltimore, where it didn’t take him the five-star point guard long to make his college decision. Quickley announced that he would attend Kentucky less than a week after his official visit. He publicly chose the Wildcats over Kansas and Miami.
However, to see the headline “Quickley choses Kentucky over Kansas and Miami” doesn’t really tell the whole story, according to Sodipo. While Sodipo said that Quickley never told him specifically that Kentucky would be his choice, he personally believes that the Wildcats’ biggest competition was eliminated months ago during the craziness of the coaching carousel.
“I knew from the beginning, there was a great chance it was Kentucky,” Sodipo said. “The only competition at that time was Washington. And once Washington’s coaching staff got fired, even though he never told me, I felt like everybody had to work harder to play catch-up with Kentucky.”
Internally, Sodipo believes Quickley chose Kentucky long ago, and what the recruiting process then became was Quickley “crossing his T’s” and “dotting his I’s.” In essence he was looking for another school to give him a reason not to choose Kentucky. He couldn’t find it.
“It was a process of, ‘am I making the right decision? Let me see if someone can convince me that this is not the right decision,’” Sodipo said.
With Quickley’s college decision now in the books, it’s time for the first member of the Wildcats’ 2018 class to now look ahead.
On the court, there is plenty of work to do. Sodipo says that Quickley will use the next year to physically fill-out his body; not so much “add weight” as much as make sure he is stronger, and able to handle the wear and tear that college basketball is going to bring in the fall of 2018.
Of course off the court there is work to do too, and Sodipo believes that Quickley will now turn his attention to the other top prospects in the class of 2018. Quickley took an official visit with five-star wing Keldon Johnson, and his relationship with uber-recruit Zion Williamson is well documented.
So will Quickley recruit other guys? Oh, it’s already begun.
“I already know he is recruiting a few guys, two or three, maybe more,” Sodipo said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if he got 1-2 in the next few months. He’s definitely recruiting. And I believe he started recruiting before he made this announcement.”
“He’s a point guard. That’s his job.”
And it’s a job that Quickley will take seriously as he begins his final high school season and the journey to becoming a college basketball player.
The biggest decision of Quickley’s basketball career is behind him. But if you think he’s resting on his laurels, think again. As Sodipo explained, within hours of announcing his college decision, he was back in the gym, looking to get better.
“He had his commitment ceremony on Friday,” Sodipo said. “We didn’t finish until like 10, maybe 11. He was back in the gym 8 a.m. Saturday.”
“Most kids commit, they say ‘Ok, I’m going to take the weekend off and enjoy this.’ No, he was back in the gym, 8 a.m. until 10 or 11. But he was acting like nothing else happened. It wasn’t a conversation of like, ‘Oh, last night…’ No, he kept working. He’s that kind of kid.”
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 [email protected]. 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.”