By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Immanuel Quickley was a leader on the court. He also was an spiritual inspiration in the locker room too this season.
Kentucky coach John Calipari called on Quickley to say the pre-game prayer, shifting away from his traditional practice of spreading “it around so that before we go out for a game, no one in the room would know who I was calling on.”
“The reason I did it is then I know each one of them was praying because they knew they had to speak in front of their team and say a prayer,” Calipari said. “They had better be ready. So, they at least did it two or three times (a season).”
However, Calipari said Quickley “was so good and the players had so much faith in his faith that I made it for him to do it” and he displayed his Christian faith without forcing it on anyone.
“You could see his faith through how he lived his life and how he treated his own faith, which has an impact on other people,” Calipari said. “I think actions speak more loudly than words and people are moved more by what you do than what you say, especially with religion.”
As the state, nation, and world battles the COVID-19 virus, Calipari, a devoted Catholic, is missing his routine.
“I’m like a lost soul right now because I can’t go to mass in the morning,” he said. “Immanuel is kind of like I am. People know his faith, but he doesn’t force it on anybody. He doesn’t judge how you are based on his faith. Neither do I. The players know that. We would be on the road for a game and I’m in mass in the morning. They know what my schedule was, what my daily routine (is), how I go about (things). The first thing that I do.”
Quickley relied on his faith heavily going into his second season with the Wildcats and spent time reading his Bible and devotions. Quickley simply wanted to be a starter and he wrote down that lone goal on his wall and bathroom mirror at Wildcat Lodge.
“From that, he became (Southeastern Conference) Player of the Year as voted on by the coaches, who had to play against him — player of the year in our league,” Calipari said.
Not only did Quickley’s confidence soar on the offensive end, it followed on defense.
“If you remember, he couldn’t stay in front of anyone,” Calipari recalled. “Now all of a sudden he became one of our best defenders and he would be in the huddle saying, ‘I got so and so. Let me guard him.’”
If Quickley returns for a third season, Calipari is confident the sophomore guard can transition into a point guard.
“Yes, would we be a better team, him being a point guard on this team coming back? Yes,” the Kentucky coach said. “But that’s not why he should make a decision. His decision is, is this the right time? Am I ready to succeed in that league? Am I mentally ready? Which I know he is. Am I physically ready? Yeah. Have I mastered my skills the way I need to? That’s the decision he would have to come back to.”
Calipari added that Quickley’s demeanor makes him easier to coach.
“I think, again, (he is) one of the great kids that I’ve ever coached,” he said. “One of the most grounded young men that I’ve ever coached.”
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.