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Quick Picked: Immanuel Quickley goes from question mark to unquestionable leader for Kentucky

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You know, for a guy that didn’t become a full-time starter until Jan. 18 of this season, Immanuel Quickley sure has turned a lot of heads in a positive direction on his way to being named SEC Player of the Year by the coaches.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M
On Tuesday, sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley was named the SEC Player of the Year by the coaches.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday brought the announcement of the Southeastern Conference’s regular season honors and just like most previous years, Kentucky cleaned up in the coaches’ voting as the champions of the SEC for a record-49th time this season.

While Arkansas’ Mason Jones and Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry shared the Associated Press’s SEC Player of the Year award, sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley was named the fourth Wildcat in John Calipari’s 11 seasons at Kentucky (five if you included AP honors) to be named the player of the year in the SEC by the coaches.

Not bad for a kid that was shooting 39.3 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from 3 and wasn’t even a permanent starter in the Kentucky rotation until the latter part of January.

Quickley’s rise to stardom in the league and across the nation over the last couple months has been not only big for his future as an NBA prospect, but has vaulted Kentucky back into the conversation of potential championship contenders after a rocky first two months that saw them lose to Evansville, Utah and Ohio State before the turn of the new year.

How good has Quickley been?

Well, the old expression goes, “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t.”

Immanuel Quickley’s first 15 games vs. his last 15 games

Total Games Played Games Started Minutes/Game PPG RPG FTM/G FTA/G 3PM/G 3PA/G Slash Line (FG%/3PT%/FT%)
Total Games Played Games Started Minutes/Game PPG RPG FTM/G FTA/G 3PM/G 3PA/G Slash Line (FG%/3PT%/FT%)
15 5 29.8 13.7 3.8 3.7 4 1.9 4.4 44.2/42.4/93.3
15 15 36.1 18.4 4.6 5.9 6.4 2.3 5.3 39.9/43.0/91.7
All stats acquired from Sports Reference.

Although his field goal and free throw percentages went down as expected because he was playing a ton more minutes in the latter 15 games compared to the first 15 games, most of, if not, all of Quickley’s offensive numbers increased, including his 3-point percentage on almost a full attempt more per game in the last 15.

He hit 62 total 3-pointers during the regular season (tied for seventh-best among SEC players, 44 in SEC play) and shot the least amount of triples (145, next closest: Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree, 172) of anybody in the top eight players in the conference. His 42.8 percentage mark from 3 ranked fifth among qualified shooters in the SEC this season.

Quickley led the Cats in usage percentage (23.4), offensive win shares with Nick Richards (3.4), points produced (439) and paced the team with an offensive box plus-minus of 6.2, while finishing second in PER (20.4), TS% (.595), total win shares (4.8), win shares per 40 minutes (.192) and offensive rating (121.3) to Richards.

Nick Richards evolved into one of the country’s most consistent players throughout much of the season and looked like Kentucky’s SEC Player of the Year candidate himself for a while, but it was Quickley that helped springboard the Cats into their form during the present time and across the finish line first in the SEC title race once again heading into the SEC Tournament this weekend in Nashville.

In the 20 consecutive games that Quickley scored in double figures heading into this weekend, including the season finale against Florida this past weekend, Kentucky went 17-3 and Quickley shot 47.2 percent from 3 on 5.3 attempts per contest and made 92 percent of his freebies on 6.3 attempts per game.

He scored 20+ points in eight of those 20 games — including a career-high 30 against Texas A&M on Feb. 25, three days after setting his initial career high of 26 points against Florida — and during that same stretch, Quickley missed just 10 of his 125 total free throws, including four games where he shot 10+ freebies. In five of those 20 games, Quickley hit 4+ 3-pointers, including eight (!) of his 12 attempts against A&M.

Whether it was making a big play to get the Cats going in a tight spot ...

... or simply putting the nail in the coffin for the Cats to seal another win, Quickley was the go-to guy for Kentucky over the last couple months of this season and he answered the call seemingly every time.

“We have a lot of guys on the team that are making shots but here’s what’s great about this team,” Calipari said after Quickley’s 30-point night against A&M, “When he walked in that locker room, they went nuts because he was doing TV after. That’s the thing about this group. When Nick’s come up big, they go crazy. When EJ’s come up big, they go crazy. They are cheering each other’s successes and that’s a good sign. And I told them that. I said, look, ‘You’re not going to get on many teams where everybody is happy with those other guys.’ Just doesn’t happen, man. Guys are worried about themselves and their own futures. It’s not happening with this group.”

If you don’t believe Calipari and the camaraderie within the program this season, listen to Quickley discuss how he found out he was named the conference player of the year.

More often than not, Calipari will say he likes his team.

It’s become clear that they like each other.

And in the grand scheme of things, not only has Quickley become a certified scorer and a proven leader for the Cats, but he’s one of the main reasons their tournament run could last a while.