By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
The Kentucky Basketball team just spent a few weeks of intense basketball training at Camp Cal. After watching them handily beat Georgia and Alabama last week here is one player that seems to have benefited the most from the extra time in the gym.
Immanuel Quickley is becoming the player everyone believed he could be when he first stepped on campus a year and a half ago. As a pure shooter he is demonstrating how his understanding of the college game has increased significantly.
His play looks to be in sync with the other players on the floor, he instinctively moves to the correct spots to allow himself the best shot and he drives the ball enough to keep teams honest and get to the free throw line where he is deadly — shooting close to 95 percent.
Quickley said about his newfound confidence in shooting the ball, “It feels like I’m in my gym back home and I’m shooting every shot, I feel like the rim’s a wide-open ocean.”
And he has looked that way. Against Alabama, with the game on the line and the shot clock nearing zero, Calipari called a timeout to set up a 3-point shot for Quickley. He threw the ball in, came off a screen and received a pass back to bury a three pointer for the Cats. It was a back breaking play for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
In fact here’s what the opposing head coach had to say about Quickley, “With him shooting like that, this is a completely different team,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “I watch a lot of college basketball and I’m a big college basketball fan, so even if we’re not playing or have a scout I’m in the middle of I’ll put a game on and watch. I saw them play early in the year against Michigan State. If he shoots 5 of 6 from 3, I don’t know who’s better than him in the country.”
He is correct. If Quickley can continue to shoot the ball well it opens up so many more scoring opportunities for guys like Nick Richards, Nate Sestina and EJ Montgomery. Now, in a two man game set, UK post players can feel confident that if they don’t have good position underneath they can pass the ball out to Quickley for a great three point shot.
Also teams can’t afford to to double down on Kentucky’s post player if Immanuel Quickley can hit 40 percent or better from3-point range. That will pay tremendous dividends by allowing guys like Nick Richards to work one on one against their defender down low.
Not only has Quickley been shooting the ball well but he has also been doing the intangible things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. Providing leadership is one of those intangibles.
Ashton Hagans had this to say about the “new” Quickley, “He’s also becoming a better leader and just believing in himself more and just playing the role that we need.”
That leadership could prove invaluable over the last half of the season for a Kentucky team that has struggled at times to work as a unit.
All-in-all Quickley seems to be “that guy” that always emerges on a John Calipari-coached UK team. The guy that puts in the extra gym time, understands his role on the team and makes the most of it. The guy that helps to move Kentucky Basketball in the right direction. And that’s great news for Immanuel Quickley and the fans that have been waiting to see it happen.