By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
A famous line from the 1970 Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi” seems to sum up exactly how most people are feeling right now because of the cancellations, social distancing and quarantines that have occurred due to the Covid19 pandemic. The line in the song goes, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”
That’s how most people feel about everything right now, including sports. So, since there are no games to write about or even any sports-related activities I thought I would go ahead and write about some sports figures and activities of the past.
More specifically sports figures or players or teams that have created special memories for me.
Hopefully you will read along and find out that you have similar memories of that same player or team or maybe it will trigger some memories of your own about other sports figures, players or teams. Either way it will help us realize what we had and hope that it comes back very quickly in the future along with some other things like good health, better business activity and a world that will maybe be a little nicer to their neighbors. One can only hope.
So here goes. The first sports player that I really wanted to talk about is a UK basketball player — more specifically Immanuel Quickley. Here’s why. I was always a sucker for a story where the good guy wins. You know, the guy with the white hat ends up fighting his way through all this trouble and adversity and in the end he defeats the black hat guy, gets all the money and the girl.
That’s why I love Immanuel Quickley’s story because in real life it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes players work hard and they don’t come out on top. Sometimes an injury cuts their career short or they give up and transfer before they cross the finish line or sometimes they just flat give up. Sure, they’re still on the team but they checked out a long time ago.
But that didn’t happen with Quickley. He started the 2019-2020 season expected to be one of seven or eight players that could work his way into the rotation. Being a sophomore, most hoped that he could play some meaningful minutes. His statistics for the 2018-2019 season were solid but not spectacular. He started in seven of the 37 games for UK during his freshman season and averaged 5.2 points per game.
In 2019-2020 he moved from just a guy in the rotation to probably the key player on the team the last twenty games. He averaged 16.1 points per game — which was a team high — and ended the season on a 20-game double figure scoring streak, the most since Malik Monk’s 30-game steak in 2016-2017.
Quickley was Mr. Consistent down the stretch. He was the go-to guy in the last 10 minutes of every game. He found ways to score, whether from long range — he hit 42.8 percent of his 3-pointers — or driving the ball to the basket and shooting his patented floater. He was also deadly at the free throw line hitting 92 percent. Quickley was always the player to close out the game either at the free throw line or shooting daggers from the field.
But even as he was being touted as an SEC Player of the Year candidate near the end of the season he continued to be a team player. He finished the season averaging four rebounds per game from his guard position and averaged two assists per game.
But the biggest factor of why I loved to watch Quickley play was because of his attitude on and off the court. He was genuine. He was a great teammate. He didn’t mind presenting his faith to the public and he seemed to live it every day. It was was part of who he is.
He also did one other thing that really impressed me. Sure, he became an All-American, SEC Player of the Year and First Team All-SEC which recognizes his individual talent but he also became a great leader on the floor. Guys looked to him when the chips were down, when they needed a big basket or needed free throws down the stretch to close out a game. But he also led by example and that seemed to help guys like Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks Jr develop as players.
The last game of the season against Florida was a prime example. Quickley, very unusually, fouled out with about 8 or 9 minutes left in the game. At that point, Juzang and Brooks both stepped up and helped fill the gap and bring about as an improbable win as anyone had seen a Kentucky team pull off. Some of that occurred, in my opinion, because they had seen Quickley do the same thing in games. They had seen him step up and hit big shots, make big free throws and grab a key rebound and they knew if he could do it, they could also.
All of the development that occurred for Immanuel Quickley was considered part of the “process” but the “process” is really a code word for hard work and mental toughness. It’s extra time in the gym. It’s going hard in conditioning when you don’t feel like it and would rather be doing anything else. It’s paying attention in individual instruction and team meetings and setting an example for the rest of the team.
That’s what separates the Immanuel Quickleys from the wannabes. And that’s why Immanuel Quickley is one of those players that sticks in your mind. He one of those guys that you live to see come out on top.
And it doesn’t hurt that he was also wearing a big white hat.