Immanuel Quickley practically lives in the gym.
Wednesday night, he’s hoping his work there and his Baltimore-area basketball roots culminate with a selection in the NBA draft. The John Carroll graduate and Havre de Grace native is projected to be picked in the top third of the second round by most mock drafts after a standout sophomore season at Kentucky.
Quickley, a shooting guard, said he earned his pre-draft ranking by playing with a chip on his shoulder against some of the toughest competition in the Baltimore area, including former Mount Saint Joseph and Maryland standout Jalen Smith, who is expected to be selected midway through the first round.
“Playing basketball in the Baltimore area is huge because a lot people didn’t think I could get here. A lot of people didn’t think I would be successful at Kentucky and I proved them wrong,” Quickley said. “A lot more people think I won’t be successful in the NBA, but [I’m] just striving to continue to prove the haters wrong and prove myself right. I’m just not only looking forward to getting drafted, but just continuing to work hard to reach my individual goals."
Quickley, 21, averaged 16.1 points a game for Kentucky before the 2019-20 season was shut down in early March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The shutdown forced him to dribble in his basement and do pushups when he first returned home in March. But since April, he’s undergone some of the toughest training of his life with longtime trainers Bill Ackerman and Jide Sodipo.
“I really haven’t taken any time off,” Quickley said. “I just look forward to being in the gym, grinding and I’m looking forward to that challenge. I knew that basketball wasn’t going to be canceled forever. So, I knew I had to be ready when that time came and I’m just hoping to hear my name called on draft night.”
Quickley returned to his roots to prepare for Wednesday’s draft, working out with the same strength and conditioning coach that he’s had since the ninth grade at John Carroll. In high school, he routinely took about 1,000 shots in the morning before the school day.
“Immanuel was a backup essentially his freshman year and you see this skinny kid coming off of the bench with his headband and no fear of shooting the ball,” Ackerman said. “It didn’t matter where he was from, you’d see this freshman pull up and shoot. He’s got some intangibles and basketball has always been his passion.”
As a sophomore at John Carroll, he averaged 17.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game, helped the Patriots win a Baltimore Catholic League title and was named The Baltimore Sun All-Metro Player of the Year. He played even better his junior year, averaging 23.7 points and 7.2 assists per game to earn first-team All-Metro honors, and finished his senior year averaging 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
He went from a lanky, 145-pound guard to a 6-foot-3 five-star recruit, rating as the 10th-best prospect in the country by Rivals.com and the 12th by ESPN. Quickley made the McDonald’s All American Game and was elected as an All-Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association player three times.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who recruited former Baltimore stars such as Sam Cassell and Donta Bright, liked Quickley’s work ethic.
“What you find with those kids is that you have to fight for what you want,” Calipari said. “Nothing is given to you — not with those kids down in Baltimore. If you don’t want to do the right stuff, you’re not making it. In that town, more than any other place, there are no frauds. Players know who can play, they all know, and if you think you’re tricking somebody — you’re not down in Baltimore. [Quickley] grew up in that area having to fight and it helped him here.”
Quickley had a relatively quiet freshman year at Kentucky, averaging 5.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 37 games, making seven starts. Just like after his freshman year of high school, Quickley immediately locked himself in the gym during the offseason and blocked out the noise.
Calipari saw Quickley’s growth firsthand. While he’s coached a litany of guards who were one-and-done NBA players such as John Wall, Brandon Knight, De’Aaron Fox, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, Malik Monk and Eric Bledsoe, Calipari understood that Quickley needed more time to develop.
“He was one where it took him a little more time, but here’s the thing I say, ‘How do you evaluate a young man with the analytics when he is one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached?’ He has an unbelievable family, great faith and a culture guy,” Calipari said. “I had to kick him out of the gym. He would sacrifice so that other players could step up and he had to step up to do what he had to do to win. How do you evaluate that by numbers?”
Quickley had a breakout year as a sophomore, winning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors after averaging 16.1 points per game. Kentucky won the regular season SEC championship with a 25-6 overall record and 15-3 conference mark.
With a team-high .428 3-point percentage, Quickley’s game transitions well into the NBA, where pace-and-space offenses are the norm and 3-point shooters are highly valued. Quickley has had pre-draft meetings with the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans.
Quickley said he wants to prove he is worth a high selection. It’s the same type of motivation that has pushed him throughout his career.
“If I was picked in the second round, I’m still going to try to prove to anybody that I should be in the conversation [for a higher selection],” Quickley said. “It’s just working hard to outpace wherever I’m drafted. If I’m drafted 15th, I’m going to prove that I should’ve been drafted 10th. Wherever I’m drafted, I want to prove everybody wrong.”
He plans to view the draft with his family in Havre de Grace.
Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Two rounds, 60 overall selections to be made virtually from ESPN studios in Connecticut