By LARRY VAUGHT
Based on Kentucky’s three exhibition games (including the Blue-White Game), no one has played better for coach John Calipari than sophomore guard Immanuel Quickly.
He had 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting in Friday’s win over Kentucky State and is 7-for-15 from 3-point range in those games.
Quickley says the preseason games have been helpful for various reasons going into Tuesday night’s season opener against Michigan State.
“We learned that we have to play. We played well in stretches, but in order to beat a good team like Michigan State we’re going to have to put those stretches a little bit longer. Play great for a little bit longer stretches in order to beat a team like Michigan State,” Quickley said.
Quickley is one of four returning players who played in last year’s Champions Classic when Duke smashed UK. The sophomore says he is telling UK’s freshmen the game will involve “a lot of nerves” in a big-time setting.
“It’s going to be high energy. A high-energy game to start the game and to finish,” the sophomore guard said. “Guys are just going to have a lot of nerves in general just because it’s a sold-out arena at Madison Square Garden. You just try to tell them to control their nerves and to have fun. Not everybody else gets to play in a game like that.
“We (the returning players) understand what this game is like going into it. The nerves and the jitters that we had last year , we probably won’t have this year just knowing what the game is going to be like. The energy, everybody screaming and hollering and things like that. I think we’ll be ready for this game.”
Quickley has played in Madison Square Garden before, something else he thinks will help him.
“Individually, I think it’ll be good just because I’m a little bit familiar with not only the Champions Classic, but like you said, the arena. It’s always good to play in the world’s, quote-in-quote, most famous arena,” Quickley said.
So far this season Quickley has come off the bench rather than starting. He says that’s fine because he doesn’t care if he starts or not.
“Whether you start or you come off the bench, you want to be productive with the minutes that you get,” Quickley said.
Quickley has seen Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston, the consensus national preseason player of the year, play at USA Basketball.
“He’s pretty good. Even from what people are saying around the country and from what they’ve seen last year, he’s a pretty good point guard,” Quickley said. “He’s on a lot of All-American lists and stuff like that so it’s going to be a good matchup for us.”
Quickley knows teammate Ashton Hagans, last year’s co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year, won’t back down from the challenge of guarding Winston.
“We know how good Cassius is and we know how good Michigan State is –- they’re No. 1 for a reason. As a team, and I’m sure Ashton can say it for himself, we all look at this as an opportunity to get better,” Quickley said.