After making its debut at last year’s Big Blue Madness, UK’s new 3-Point Contest is back for another year and another Big Blue Madness tonight. Last year’s winner, Immanuel Quickley, headlines the field as any defending champ would, but there are some newcomers who are expected to challenge Quickley for his title Friday night.
So who will win? I don’t know, but it will come out of this group of contenders:
Immanuel Quickley – As I just said in the paragraph you just finished reading, Quickley won last year’s Big Blue Madness 3-Point Contest, edging out Tyler Herro by one point in the finals. Quickley scored a 19 in the first round and an 18 in the championship round to win the inaugural event. He also won the McDonald’s High School All-American Game’s 3-Point Contest in April of last year, so another victory will make for a 3-Peat in 3-Point Contests. In real game action, Quickley hit 30 of 87 tries in his freshman year for a 34.5 percent clip from outside.
Johnny Juzang – The early word is Juzang is the shooter on this year’s roster. At UK Basketball Media Day, John Calipari said, “When he shoots it, you think the ball’s going in.” We got a small glimpse at Juzang’s stroke at UK’s Pro Day and his shot certainly passes the looks test. Tonight we’ll see if he is a shooter or a maker, as Calipari loves to say. It is the freshman’s first time in Rupp Arena and his first time playing in front of Big Blue Nation, so I worry the atmosphere may rattle him.
Nate Sestina – Sestina was the talk of the Kentucky fan base last weekend when cameras caught him hitting 20 of 24 three-pointers during a shooting drill at UK’s Pro Day. Almost all of the 20 makes were nothing but net, and now fans expect him to do it when it matters, whether that is fair or not. Tonight we will get to see Sestina taking wide open three-pointers again; if he makes a bunch, the preseason hype around his outside shot may get out of hand.
Ashton Hagans – Shooting is not what Hagans does best — he shot 27.5 percent from outside on over 50 attempts as a freshman — but it has been a key point of focus between his freshman and sophomore seasons in Lexington. Kentucky’s offense needs opponents to respect Hagans’ shooting ability this year, no more sagging off, and in a few hours we’ll get a look at how his shot looks heading into Year 2.
Tyrese Maxey – If we are picking who will lead UK in scoring next year, Maxey might be the favorite of the bunch. He is a very versatile scorer who can play on or off the ball, similar to Jamal Murray, who Calipari compared Maxey to in a preseason conversation back in September. If Maxey can shoot the three anything like Murray did, he’ll be in the mix to win the 3-Point Contest. (And Kentucky will be very dangerous offensively.)
Dontaie Allen – Sleeper pick! Dontaie Allen still hasn’t practiced with his team as he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered midway through his senior year of high school, but he may be cleared to participate in the 3-Point Contest tonight. Allen has spent several hours working on his jumper while rehabbing his knee, and his teammates bragged on what they’ve seen from Allen’s shot while talking about him at UK Media Day. He shot 40 percent from outside at Pendleton County before his injury.
Nick Richards – Just kidding. (But not really. Go Nick.)
A couple of 3-Point Contest-related notes:
— The gold “money” balls will be replaced by blue balls this year. True Blue Customs did the paint job again.
— Remember, the 3-point line moved back to the international line at 22 feet, 1¾ inches. The new distance was set this past offseason, so this will be the debut of the new line in Rupp Arena.
— The dunk contest is also back.