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Kentucky Basketball Preview: Will Immanuel Quickley be the next super sophomore?

If Quickley can take a major step forward, this will be the best backcourt in the country.

Auburn v Kentucky Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Immanuel Quickley

  • Class: Sophomore
  • Height: 6-3
  • Weight: 185
  • Hometown: Havre de Grace, Maryland
  • High School: The John Carroll School
  • Recruit Rankings: No. 22 nationally, No. 4 PG in 2018 via 247 Sports composite rankings

Terrence Jones and PJ Washington are probably the best examples, but many John Calipari players have shown major improvement going into their second season at Kentucky. Both of these guys improved their stock, and Washington worked his way into the lottery. According to early reports, Immanuel Quickley has made a similar jump in his development since last year.

Starting last season as the starter, Quickley lost his point guard position to the more athletic, better defending Ashton Hagans. Quickley still produced off the bench and showed how valuable he can be as a shooter, but it became clear that this was not his show to run. Now that Kentucky retained Hagans and picked up Tyrese Maxey, where does that leave Quickley in the guard rotation?

While Coach Calipari loves seeing Hagans and Maxey compete in practice, he said at media day that Quickley does not even look like the same player.

‘The reason is he’s in a different frame of mind, “Calipari said. “It’s kind of like when P.J. (Washington) came back. P.J. came back, it’s not that he just came back, he came back with a different mentality. He came back with a change of how he responded and how he saw things.”

Quickley seems to agree with that idea.

“My mindset has changed,” Quickley said. “Like last year, playing against guys like Tyler (Herro), Keldon (Johnson) and PJ (Washington) and all them, my confidence has increased. Knowing I can play against them, I know I can play against anyone.”

Quickley shot nearly 35% from behind the three-point line last season, easily the best mark of any of the returning players. So if he continues to improve and shoot as good or better than last year, it will be difficult to keep him off the court.

Quickley also does a great job taking care of the ball. He only turned the ball over 33 times last season, which was best on the team for anyone playing 16 or more minutes per contest. Hagans did have problems with turnovers late last season, and it definitely cost Kentucky during the NCAA Tournament. And while Hagans is also expected to take a large step forward, Quickley’s discipline with the ball creates real value for the team.

According to Calipari, he would not be opposed to putting Hagans, Quickley, and Maxey out there at the same time.

“This year I think we have three guys that easily could play point guard,” Calipari said. “And there may be times that all three of them play at one time. I’ve done that before when we had Jamal (Murray), Isaiah (Briscoe) and Tyler (Ulis). We played three point guards. And your teams, there’s things you give up but there’s things you gain.”

It is expected that Maxey will spend most of his time playing off the ball. While he played a lot of point guard in high school, he was largely promoted as a combo guard that could really put points on the board.

For Quickley, that means he will likely serve as the backup point guard to Hagans, but also potentially as the backup shooting guard to Maxey. There were several times last season where Hagans and Quickley shared the court, and it often worked well.

So what is it that makes Quickley different going into year two? Are there specific skills he has improved offensively? Is he a more disruptive defender? According to Coach Cal, the change in Immanuel Quickley actually has very little to do with basketball.

Calipari continued to gush over Quickley at media day, saying, “I’m saying it again, Immanuel Quickley walked in the court, we practiced, a guy grabbed me and said, he’s not even the same kid, he’s not the same -- forget about basketball-wise look at how he walks and carries himself. And as a coach that’s what you’re looking for.”

Getting a little extra swagger is also something fans love to see. And while Quickley kind of drifted in the background last season personality-wise, it seems we may get to see more of who he really is this coming season.

We’re already starting to see the kind of star Quickley can become, as he’s been arguably Kentucky’s best player through two exhibition games, showing improvement in every facet of his game in addition to some added hops:

This team has an opportunity to be special. There is a lot of talent on the roster, and there are returning players with a lot to prove. But if Immanuel Quickley is truly able to make a PJ Washington-size leap into his sophomore season, Kentucky’s back court will likely be the best in the country. And come tournament time, a back court like that will be very hard to beat.

“I think people will see a lot of different things from me,” Quickley said of the upcoming season. “I’m a lot more aggressive, more consistent from the field and more comfortable. I’m coming in knowing what I need to do.”