By LARRY VAUGHT
As the All-American honors continue to roll in for Kentucky sophomore Immanuel Quickley, it reminded me of something Quickley said before the scheduled start of the Southeastern Conference Tournament when he was asked about what motivated him to work so hard to improve.
“Just really a lot of people, I think, counted me out. Just coming back this sophomore season, just wanted to prove everybody wrong and prove myself right as well. That’s pretty much that,” Quickley said.
He went from a reserve averaging about five points per game last year to leading UK in scoring and 3-point shooting this season while also dramatically improving his defense.
His goal was to become a first-team all-Southeastern Conference, a lofty objective since most didn’t think he would start at UK with the return of Ashton Hagans and arrival of Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney. He was not a starter early in the season but not only became a starter but was named SEC Player of the Year.
“To win SEC Player of the Year, I don’t think a lot of people thought that, that I would be able to do something like this. That’s what makes it really cool, just to kind of be like a quote-unquote underdog and just come out here and do something special. That’s really cool,” he said.
It meant more to him, too, that league coaches picked him — not that he would have complained if it had been a media vote.
“It’s really cool. A lot of respect to them (the SEC coaches). They feel that I had a pretty good year, so just a lot of respect to them,” Quickley said.
The sophomore certainly has to be weighing his options to enter the NBA draft even though he’s not projected in the top 40 of any mock draft I’ve seen.
“I think a lot of people didn’t expect me to have this type of year. But if you ask the people around me and myself, I expected to have this type of year,” Quickley said.
“Really just going into the offseason –- whatever I do; I don’t know what I’m doing –- just wanting to work on all my weaknesses and continue to get better at my strengths.”
Quickley hopes to apply lessons he learned this season to become a better player just like he did with what he learned from his freshman season.
“Probably mentally was the biggest thing (he learned as a freshman). Just knowing how mentally strong you have to be to play here,” Quickley said. “Playing through mistakes was a big part of my sophomore year coming back. That was probably it, was probably the mental part. I knew I was good enough. Just seeing the in-game success was a big part.”