By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari says it’s no accident that sophomore Immanuel Quickley has become such an effective player this season.
“He’s a confident kid, and what he does, he spends so much time in the gym, he expects to make them (3-point shots),” Calipari said. “If you know you’re not 100 percent, you’re not spending the time you can, you still look in the mirror.
“And if you’re giving 80 percent and then you get in the game and it doesn’t play out for you, you know, he’s — the kid lives in the gym. He’s kind of like Tyler (Herro), he’s like Shai (Gilgeous-) Alexander, those guys. He’s just like them. “The guy, the energy, he finishes first on every run. He’s built his own (confidence).”
That showed when he overcame an off shooting game (3-for-14) to bury a deep 3-pointer late in the win at Arkansas and had his first double-double by getting 10 rebounds to go with 13 points. And he went 6-for-7 at the foul line.
What’s not as obvious about Quickley is that he’s building that same confidence on defense. He did a terrific job against Louisville’s Jordan Nwora and has carried that momentum into SEC play so well that Calipari no longer has to depend on Ashton Hagans to be the sole perimeter defensive stopper.
“I think the one thing that Cal talks about on the defensive end and our staff really tries to hit on is defensive confidence,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said. “That’s something that travels. It should carry over into postseason. It should go from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior, and I think that’s something we teach here a lot is how to do I build my defensive confidence.
“If I’m not making shots, if I’m not playing extremely well or as well as I would think on the offensive end, your defense is based off of your effort. It’s based off of your preparation, and Immanuel is a guy who in his second year has stepped up. He’s a guy that has paid greater attention to multiple positions in our walkthroughs, and I think that’s what you want and you need out of these veteran guys.”