By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Immanuel Quickley was all smiles and his teammates were loving his demeanor a few hours after he was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
As he was speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, freshman Keion Brooks Jr. praised Quickley and took a bow, while Tyrese Maxey raved about playing alongside Quickley this season.
“God is good,” Quickley said. “Credit to my teammates, coaches for pushing me throughout the whole season. I’m just really happy and obviously a pretty cool accomplishment. You try not to take it lightly, but you’ve got to just get back to work.”
Teammate Nick Richards informed Quickley he had won the award Tuesday morning while he was “trying to take a test.”
“It was pretty cool and he was super happy for me,” Quickley said. “He was basically screaming.”
Before the season, Quickley’s goal was to simply make the first team and admitted “not a lot of people thought” being the league’s top player was within reach for the sophomore guard.
“That’s what makes it really cool, kinda makes it quote, unquote underdog,” he said. “To come out here and do something special is really cool. … A lot of people didn’t expect me to have this type of year, but if you ask people around me and myself, I expected to have thus type of year.”
Maxey wasn’t surprised Quickley won the league’s top honor and saw it coming last summer.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” he said. “He put in the work and he’s been putting in the work since I got here. Me and him were in the gym early in the summer at 6 a.m. I saw it then that he was dedicated and he was ready. He went out there and performed on the court.”
Now that he has a proverbial target on his back, Quickley is prepared for the postseason, starting with the league tournament this week in Nashville.
“The target (on my back) will be pretty cool, but it’s a team game,” Quickley said. “At the end of the day, we’re still trying to accomplish something special.”
Although teams will focus more on Quickley, he said the team’s 18-point comeback win at Florida is “huge” for the Wildcats going into the SEC Tournament.
“The 17-point comeback that Tennessee had on us was kinda heartbreaking but the 18-point comeback the following game just shows how much this team can fight and how much they’re willing to sacrifice (to get the win).”
Like Quickley, Richards, who was named first-team All0-SEC, said the awards are nice, but the team is aiming for a bigger prize.
“The awards are great, but we’re just focused on winning a national championship,” he said. “Our main goal, which is going to help us in the long run is to win a championship.”
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Gametracker: Kentucky vs, Tennessee-Alabama winner, 1 p.m., Friday, Nashville. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.