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TRANSCRIPT: Kentucky’s returning players on coming back and the new team

EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards, and Immanuel Quickley met with the media today to discuss their decisions to return to Kentucky and what they think of the freshmen so far. Enjoy the video of the interviews below, or keep scrolling for a full transcript.

2019-20 Kentucky returning players speak to the media

Posted by Kentucky Sports Radio on Friday, June 7, 2019

EJ Montgomery

On why he returned to Kentucky:

“It was just the uncertainty with all the things that’s going on. They wanted me to come back. They said if I came back and got stronger, I’d go higher in the draft.”

On whether strength was the biggest reason to come back:

“Yeah, probably the main reason, just my physical part, my body. I went out there and I showed I could do a lot of things but they just wanted me to show I could go out there and play with the physical guys.”

On the positive feedback he received:

“That I shot it well, I can stretch the floor and things like that.”

On whether or not the jump PJ Washington made from year one to two factored into his decision:

“It did. Once I heard where I would land in the draft, I knew if I came back and go hard every day like he did, it would improve my stock.”

On where they told him he would go in the draft:

“Late first round, but if I came back, I would be a lot higher.”

On turning down a first-round projection:

“Yeah, but if I came back and I become a lottery pick, that’s a lot of money I’m leaving on the table.” [Laughter]

On being a competitor and wanting improve his draft stock:

“Yes, definitely. Just come back and get better everyday with my guys. I’m one of the older guys now on this team and to just be a leader and go out there and compete.”

On being one of the “old guys” now:

“It’s definitely weird because you have to learn fast here. It’s different but you just have to take that role.”

On how much it helps to have guys like Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards come back as well:

“It definitely helps. We already know how each other plays and we just are going to go out there and do the best we can to compete.”

On being expected to be a veteran leader:

“Definitely. I’m putting in the work every day now. Every time I can get on the court, I’m going to go do it and let them know I’m ready for this year.”

On making such a life-altering decision at such a young age:

“It was definitely a hard decision but I sat down with my parents and we just weighed out the pros and cons and coming back to Kentucky was the best option for me.”

On the decision-making process:

“It definitely wasn’t a gradual thing. We put a lot of thought into it. We just found out that if I come back and do what I should do, it will be a lot better.”

On working out with Tony Delk:

“It was good. Learned a lot. We just talked and we talked about when he was playing at Kentucky and stuff.”

On whether he needed more time to make the decision:

“It was kind of a fast process, so another week would probably have gotten me more time to think about the situation but I felt like I did the right thing.”

On if he talked to other Kentucky players (like PJ Washington) about his decision:

“Yes, PJ was just telling me to go hard and do the best I can and if I did come back, I’d have to step it up a notch and become a leader.”

On how he let the team know he would be returning:

“We have a group text with the team. I just let them know, put it out there that we’re getting back to business, we’ve got another year.”

On how he dealt with limited minutes last season:

“Just with great teammates and a great support system. They always kept my head up and things like that. If I had a bad day, we always just kept each other up. Working in the gym every day, that’s the way I got through it.”

On coming back to a much larger role:

“I have to work for everything. It’s not going to be given to me, so I’m just going to stay in the gym.”

On the possibility of more pieces being added to the roster:

“Whatever Coach Cal thinks we need. If he thinks we need more people or if we don’t, we got to go out there and compete.”

Ashton Hagans

On John Calipari saying he will have a breakthrough season:

“I feel really good about it. You know, I’m just here to work. Ups and downs last season in my game, so now that I know what I need to do, watch film, things like that, I just got to come in here and show the guys that I’m ready and ready to be a leader.”

On what he wants to work on:

“Getting stronger, finishing at the rim, more explosive, working on my shot, but that’s really the things that I need to do and work on in the offseason, and that’s really what I’ve been working on this offseason. But, like I said, just ready to get back to work.”

On struggling to finish at the rim at times:

“Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but you just got to move on and go with the next play. It’s basketball and things will happen, so you’ve got to keep your head up and keep going.”

On working on finishing at the rim:

“I was in the gym, so missing a layup, can’t do too much but just come back and get back in the gym and work on what I messed up on, but like I said, it’s another year and just try to come back and get better.”

On hearing that EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards were coming back:

“I wasn’t even on my phone when I heard they were coming back, and then somebody – I forgot where I was – somebody said, ‘EJ and Nick are coming back.’ My eyes just got big. It’s less stress on my shoulders having those two come back, but I’m just glad to have these guys back and another group that’s coming in, and we’ve got great talent coming in, so let’s try and be special with this group.”

On Tyrese Maxey:

“He’s a really good guard. He’s going to be a nice guard to play with. We’re going to have some great memories on the court. Might be one of the best backcourts you all ever see, but we’re going to see.”

On how his game compliments Tyrese Maxey’s:

“Tyrese does a lot with his game and I feel like I can do the same. He plays defense so that’s something that’s going to be a scary sight for other teams. We’re just ready to go out there and play with each other.”

On looking back at the ups and downs of his freshman season:

“Really just having my family with me and this group of guys who were with me last year through my ups and downs. Coming in early with a group of guys, my mindset was, I couldn’t be thinking like a young person. So I had to grow up, try to mature. Even when I had my downs, the guys were just out there talking to me, picking me up so that just helped me a lot. I just try to come in this year and just being one of the leaders. Probably being the leader. Just stay in the gym more and work. Let the younger guys look up to me so we can do something special.”

On preparing for leadership:

“I’ve been a leader on all the teams I’ve been on growing up, that I’ve played on. Any type of sports. Just knowing that this is a different type of environment. The fanbase is crazy. There are just things you’ve got to handle to know how to be a leader for this team and the coaching staff.”

On trusting Calipari’s advice during his conversation about returning to Kentucky:

“Me, my dad, my mom — I actually sat down and talked to my family members and we just felt like it was the right decision. Coming in and going in and hearing what I heard from the coaches, having a good talk with the coaches, it wasn’t that bad at all. I just felt like it was the best decision to come back here and work on my game to get better and just be patient.”

On the advice Calipari gave him:

“He’s with me with whatever decision I make. If I leave or not. If I come back, he’ll love it. That’s really all it was. He’s not going to tell me what to do. It was really my decision at the end of the day.”

On what Calipari told him he could be if he returned to Kentucky:

“He tells me what he thinks I can be a lot of times. We always have that conversation. I could take this team to somewhere that everyone wants it to be but there’s a lot of things I’ve got to work on, a lot of things I’ve got to fix.”

On what he needs to improve:

“My shot, really. Finishing at the rim more. Things like that. Being a better leader for this group of guys. Being in shape.”

On why he decided not to go through the NBA Draft evaluation process:

“My decision was to just come back and not worry about all that, not have all the stress of worrying what everybody else says. We’ve got one of the best coaches, one of the best coaching staffs up here. So I feel like anything they tell me, don’t go against it. They got me here, so why not trust the coaching staff and do what they tell me?”

On whether or not there were points last season he thought he could go pro after one year?

“Oh yeah, you know. [Laughter] That’s going to be in everyone’s mind but things happen and we’re back here for year two and I just want y’all to see what’s coming up in year two. [What is it?] We’re just going to see.”

On how excited he was by EJ and Nick’s decisions to come back:

“I just commented the other day on both of their Instagrams and said, I miss you all too, I know you miss me, things like that. But you know, it’s all love. Last year’s group was just a different bond. We all just came together and clicked real tight, so knowing that that group of guys is doing something special with their lives, we can’t do nothing but be proud. Even if they made the decision to leave, I can’t do nothing but be proud of them and whatever group of guys comes in, I’ve got to build that bond with them like we’re about to do this year and do something special.”

On being expected to be a veteran leader:

“Yeah, I’m ready. If anything comes my way and Cal puts anything on me, I’m going to have to own up and take that. Like I said, this year, I want to be the main focus of the team. I want to be the leader of the team and show that people can rely on me, things like that. Like I said, I’m just ready to get back to work and ready for the season to get started.”

On whether or not he had a postseason conversation with Cal about what he needs to improve on:

“No, not really. Just keep working on my game and go from there.”

On following PJ Washington’s path in coming back for a second season:

“He came back for his second year. He was in the gym working on his game. I feel like if he did it, why not?”

On raising his hand when the campers in Elizabethtown asked who the best defender was:

“It’s always going to be that. I love to compete on the defensive end and I feel like I’m the best out there on the defensive end.”

On whether or not he wore down physically at the end of last season:

“I wouldn’t say I physically wore down but like I said, things happen. You know they happen. And you just have to move on from that.”

On if he felt as explosive last year as he did in high school, when he was windmill dunking, etc.:

“Nah, not even. [Why?] We were actually just having a conversation about this like two weeks ago. I feel like in high school, I was playing defense but I wasn’t really playing defense. So, my legs wasn’t giving it all. [You were conserving some energy?] Yeah. Now, you don’t want to get out of the game, you don’t want to be cussed out, it’s things like that. In high school, you’re probably the man of your team so there are some things you can’t do, but here, you’ve just have to give it all you’ve got.”

On if he learned what kind of shape he has to be in to play at Kentucky:

“I would agree with you, you have to be in the best shape but it’s really about the work you put in that nobody sees so that’s really all I’m trying to do right now now is trying to be better at it.”

On why he made his decision to return to Kentucky so quickly:

“Just sitting down, talking with Cal, the conversation that we had. Talking with my dad and my family. I just felt like the best decision for me was to come back.”

On saying he and Tyrese Maxey could be one of the best backcourts:

“We’re going to see. [Laughter] We’re just going to see. Tyrese, he’s a real nice guard. We’ve got Immanuel back. We’ve got some other guards. Johnny, hopefully. Nick’s a lot better. Same thing with EJ. I think talent wise, I think we’ve just got pieces so I think we’re going to do something real special.”

On who can be relied on to score when the team needs a bucket:

“They’re not coming to Kentucky for no reason. They’re not coming here to just sit so they’ve got to work on their game somehow. I feel like anybody can come in and give us what we need.”

On whether or not he’s mad about how last season ended:

“It’s actually been in the back of my head a lot. It’s just one of them feelings that will never go away because you were so close and like I said, the bond that we created, it was different. Knowing that we can’t be with the same group, it hurt but it just adds fuel to the fire that we’ve got coming in. Knowing what you could have done last year, just bring it in and just leave it on the court this year.”

Nick Richards

On what led to his decision to return:

“We were talking about trying to be a better basketball player, that’s why. That’s one of the reasons I came to this school is to improve on my basketball skills and get ready for the next level. I thought that coming back for an extra year would just benefit that.”

On what sort of feedback he received:

“The main thing they were concerned about was me being more consistent. Everybody knows my game. They know what I can do. They wanted to know if I can bring it every single night. They wanted to know if I can do it in the NBA and hopefully do it for 82 games straight.”

On why he believes he hasn’t been consistent:

“It’s just one of those things I have to develop into. Coach just talks about me getting into the gym and working out the same things over and over again. Hopefully one day it just clicks on the basketball court.”

On how old he was when he first started playing and why it was so late:

“It was probably around 15 years old. Where I grew up in Jamaica, basketball is not really the common sport. It’s more about, we call it football, but in America they call it soccer. Cricket, track and field. I even did volleyball before. So, I was playing sports like that.”

On what drew him to basketball:

“Obviously I wanted to play basketball when I was younger, so played basketball close to when I got to 15 in the summertime. I came to America just to visit my grandmother and ended up on a summer league basketball team in New York. A basketball team saw me and offered me a scholarship to play for them.”

On if the decision was difficult or easy to come back to UK:

“The decision was probably easier. I knew that I would be coming back. The goal is this year is just to be a better player both on and off of the court.”

On how he feels about his basketball instincts:

“I’m just going out there and take it day by day. I’m trying to show everyone what kind of player I am and show everybody I love the game of basketball. Just try to move forward from there.”

On how Coach Cal has challenged him since being back:

“He’s driving me to be one of the best players in the country. Trying to make me one of the best big men in the country, and I am up for the challenge. It’s not that hard for me to play basketball; it’s the sport I love to do. There’s not pressure towards it. Just taking it day by day and show him what I can do.”

On forming chemistry with his new teammates:

“We just kind of form chemistry with each and every single one of them, in every pickup game. It’s been really interesting so far. Guys have been going at each other and going at each other trying to make every game as competitive as possible.”

On Calipari saying this team is very long and interchangeable:

“Some guys play multiple positions. Obviously EJ can play multiple positions. I’ve seen that with Kahlil [Whitney], Keion [Brooks]. Immanuel [Quickley], he can play multiple positions. It’s really a positionless team this year.”

On how much it helps to have an experience point guard like Ashton Hagans:

“It’s just going to be easier, especially for him. Just to know what Cal wants from him. He wants defense and wants him to push the ball up the court and try to get other people involved but he also wants to see improvement from a shooting aspect. So, I guess little things like that will be easier for him.”

On if he’s prepared to be a vocal leader coming into his junior season:

“Definitely. Just following by PJ’s example last year of how he took over the whole entire team. Just try to make guys better in practice and help guys be the best person that they can be on the court.”

How deep into the NBA Draft evaluation process did he get before deciding?

“Not really. I mentioned it to my family the day before I announced it. I was just kind of waiting for the right moment to tell the world what’s going to happen.”

What was the biggest determination in coming back?

“Is it actually going to help me become a better basketball player? Is there anything else I need the coaches to teach me? That was actually a major point that I was trying to figure out. Obviously, it was. Coaches told me that my game was going to continue to keep on improving and there’s actually more to learn about basketball every single day.”

On the positive feedback he received from teams:

“They all say I’m good on defense. Very athletic. Can guard multiple positions. I’m always around to try to protect the rim at all possible, at all times.”

On what teams said he needed to improve on:

“Each team said different stuff but the most common thing was just to get in better shape. That’s it.”

On if he had a “fanboy moment” in any of his NBA workouts?

“No, I didn’t see anyone work out. The guy I saw was Collin Sexton, but I played with him in high school, so there was no fanboy moment there.”

On the teams he worked out for:

“The Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Brooklyn Nets, and Houston Rockets”

On whether or not it will be easier to get past his mental hurdles with fewer players in the frontcourt:

“I wouldn’t say that will help me take a step forward. Just me getting over my mental lapses on the court is going to help me improve my game, honestly.”

Immanuel Quickley

On now being a veteran:

“It feels good. I wouldn’t say I’m old, but definitely one of the veterans on the team now, so I’m ready to take on that leadership role.”

On early impressions of this team versus last year’s:

“We’ve really just been playing pick-up. The team’s very talented individually. I think we’ll get better just like every Kentucky team as the season goes on. Hopefully we’ll build towards March once again.”

On why he made the decision to return so quickly:

“I kind of knew what I wanted to do. I was focused, working on getting better this summer, so I didn’t want to waste any time playing around with the process or anything.”

On what it’s like being a sophomore knowing new competition is coming in:

“It should be good. You know, ready to compete. That’s why you come to Kentucky: to play against the best. Pick-up’s been really good. Hopefully practice will be even better and just getting the best out of each other.”

On versatility in the backcourt:

“I think really versatile. All of us do different things, but we also do a lot of the same things as well. Ashton defense, getting to the rack. Tyrese in pick-up games, he’s really athletic, can get in the lane, can shoot as well, kind of like myself. So I think we’ll be able to do a lot of different things.”

On talking with Hagans about returning:

“I talked to Ashton a little bit, but it was kind of me and Coach Cal. We had talked about it, and that’s just kind of the decision we came up with.”

On whether he’s seen leadership improvements from Hagans:

“Yeah, no doubt. Me and Ashton definitely, even Nick and EJ, just have to take a different role. It kind of happens so fast just like that, going from learning as a freshman to being a sophomore teaching the young guys so it’s definitely going to be different.”

On how he found out Montgomery was returning:

“He told us before anybody else. I think I found out that morning and he told everybody else that evening on Snapchat. We were all laughing but we were all happy. He said something funny. But it’s just good for him to be back.”

On whether or not the 3-point line moving back to the FIBA mark will hurt his game:

“Not really. When we shoot, we usually shoot from the NBA line anyway and I played FIBA twice so I don’t think the FIBA line should be any different.”

On if the FIBA 3-point line will be good for the game.

“Yeah, it will definitely open up the space a little more to drive the line so it won’t all just be three-point shooting. It really affects everything, honestly. It affects driving lanes, it affects sickouts, and then that affects closeouts. So, it opens up a whole different type of basketball. Those driving lanes open up lobs. It opens up a whole different arsenal of offense.”

How comfortable are you having other teammates back?

“Definitely comfortable knowing those guys are back on the floor and off the floor. Those were my brothers last year. We came up a little short but it just makes it better that we get to run it back with a couple of the guys we had last year.”

On whether last year’s loss in the Elite Eight still lingers:

“Definitely. When you lose a close game like that so close to the Final Four, it definitely hurts a lot.”

On his goals for the year:

“Come in and be a leader on and off the floor. I know there are a lot of expectations but that year one to year two jump is always big for players. So a lot of confidence coming in knowing what to expect, what to do, things like that.”

On whether he feels he can be a vocal leader:

“Definitely. Even last year as a freshman, still learning from PJ [Washington] and Reid [Travis], just how they came in each and every day and worked hard and did a lot of stuff. Not only just talking, but just through their actions and things like that can definitely carry over to this year.”


Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

2 Comments for TRANSCRIPT: Kentucky’s returning players on coming back and the new team

  1. Tom Bombadil
    8:16 am June 8, 2019 Permalink

    Great article! Thank you to the guys for sitting down and giving the fans that interview. Gonna be an exciting year! Go CATS!

  2. Luether
    6:19 pm June 8, 2019 Permalink

    Good post, Mrs TT…