Immanuel Quickley opens up about Knicks hopes, Kentucky adversity

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Point guard Immanuel Quickley, who landed with the Knicks in a draft-night trade after being selected with the 25th-overall pick by the Thunder, takes a shot at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What is the most unfair criticism you’ve heard about you?

A: Probably that I’m a nice guy off the floor, so that probably means I’m a nice guy on the court.

Q: Why would that bother you?

A: ’Cause I feel like I’m a dog on the court (chuckle).

Q: From one of your social media posts: “It took a lot of unseen effort to make it look this effortless.”

A: For example, SEC Player of the Year, everybody sees the trophy and the pictures and all that stuff, all the glamor and stuff, but it was a lot of hard work, crying and pain and confusion, so it’s a lot that goes into success.

Q: Why were you crying?

A: Just hard days. … Kentucky’s not easy, Kentucky’s not for everybody, like Coach Cal [John Calipari] always says. There’s days where it’s hard and you just gotta fight through it and just grind.

Q: Describe the hardest single day at Kentucky.

A: Probably after my game at Louisville my freshman year. I just played bad … biggest adversity I’ve ever gone through as a basketball player. It just felt like I wasn’t good enough almost.

Q: So when you left the arena, you went back to your dorm?

A: Yeah. … I got in the gym though that night, for sure.

Q: Was that one of the nights you were crying?

A: Yeah, that was one of the nights I was.

Q: Did you call your mother that night?’

A: Really talked to everybody, talked to my family, friends, all that. All those moments are what makes the best players the greatest players, those days where you think you’re not good enough or you’re struggling with your confidence, and then eventually, you just push through if you just keep pushing, keep grinding.

Q: Where is your confidence level now?

A: All-time high. I come from the best college program in the world.

Immanuel Quickley
Knicks rookie Immanuel QuickleyGetty Images

Q: Define what an “alpha” is.

A: An alpha is somebody who’s not gonna take any B.S. from nobody. And somebody who comes into work every single day, is a leader, you could count on him, and at the end of the day, they’re gonna get the job done.

Q: Are you an alpha?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Why is it important for a point guard to be an alpha?

A: ’Cause you gotta talk on the floor. You gotta be an extension of Coach Cal to be able to be successful.

Q: Another post: “They will try to count you out so you make them count you in.”

A: I just remember all the people that said I shoulda transferred and things like that.

Q: Another one: “Can’t be afraid to miss.” Was there a time when you were afraid to miss?

A: Probably my freshman year [at Kentucky]. But I think that’s where my sophomore year I made the biggest jump. I missed a lot of game-winners my sophomore year, but I think that was probably the biggest thing, I wasn’t afraid to miss. I would go into the huddle before the possession and be like, “Coach Cal, let me get this one.” And he would trust me, and I think that’s the biggest thing probably why I was most successful ’cause I wasn’t afraid to fail.

Q: Another post: “Came from the bottom so I can’t lose.”

A: My whole life I wasn’t ranked. I had just gotten ranked like my junior and senior year. And then I come into Kentucky, people don’t believe that I’m gonna be good enough to be able to … I’m not the quote unquote usual Kentucky player like John Wall or De’Aaron Fox or something like that. But I still came in and had success. And then I think it’s a lot of people that still doubt me coming into the league, don’t think I can play point guard, don’t think I’m strong enough or things like that, so just always trying to prove the doubters wrong and prove myself right.

Q: You’ve been compared to John Wall and Jamal Murray.

A: I feel like I’m my own player. I feel like I’m a point guard, can play off the ball, on the ball, can shoot it, can defend, create for teammates. I feel like I’m just a versatile player. CJ McCollum is somebody who can do both, can create for his teammates, floaters in the lane, that’s somebody who I look at a lot.

Q: Tell me how you met Zion Williamson.

A: Through Adidas. We played on the same AAU circuit, and we went to a whole bunch of different places — Italy, Spain I think and Aruba — and he was my roommate for all of those trips.

Q: What kind of guy is Zion?

A: He’s definitely cool. I haven’t seen him in two years, so I don’t know how he’s changed, but he was just laid back. … You wouldn’t know that he had a million followers on Instagram.

Q: Did you think you were going to get him to Kentucky?

A: I thought I was, yeah.

Q: How close were you?

A: Obviously not close enough, ’cause he went to Duke. But hey, that’s his decision. It worked out for him — he went No. 1 overall, so I can’t fault him.

Q: What makes Zion, Zion on the court?

A: Most people think he’s just a dunker, but he can pass, dribble, can shoot a little bit, obviously really athletic, plays defense, plays hard and he’s a great teammate.

Q: What was he like as a roommate?

A: I guess we were 18 at the time. … He was just goofy, like I don’t know (smile). Watched cartoons and things like that.

Q: What do you think of fellow first-rounder and new teammate Obi Toppin?

A: From what I can tell he’s really competitive. He texted me and said, “Let’s turn this around,” like the day after the draft, so I can tell he’s really competitive and wants to win.

Q: RJ Barrett?

A: I had six Canadian players on my high school team, and then also I’m really close with [former Kentucky teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander], so I know him through him as well. Played against him on the USA-19 team, he had like 40 points or something like that. He’s a really good player, competitive and he was on my McDonald’s All-American team as well.

Q: Mitchell Robinson?

A: Really athletic, can catch lobs from anywhere, defend, can rebound, I’m sure there’s other parts to his game I don’t even know about that he’s probably really good at as well.

Q: Describe the first time you played at Madison Square Garden.

A: We played against Seton Hall. There was an energy and buzz in the arena, like before the game had started, it was like none other.

Knicks
Immanuel QuickleyAP

Q: What do you remember about new teammate Myles Powell?

A: That was one of his better games. He hit a big shot. He carried that team their whole year. I think he had like three points going into halftime and he finished with like 27, so that just shows you what type of confidence he has in himself, he’s never gonna quit.

Q: You liked playing there?

A: Yeah, shooter’s gym, I like it, I like it.

Q: If you can go one-on-one with any NBA player, who would it be?

A: Steph Curry.

Q: Why him?

A: First of all, because I play with him every time I’m on “[NBA] 2K.” I actually used him when NCAA basketball was a thing in like ’09, I used to be Davidson and score like 100 points with him when he was in college.

Q: Did you win the tournament?

A: Oh, of course (laugh). He makes every shot on the game.

Q: Describe your 50-footer before halftime against Texas Tech last season.

A: I had no idea that was going in, honestly. I just shot it, and I was like, “Dang, that ain’t going in.” And then it just went in (laugh).

Q: What was your best single moment at Kentucky?

A: It was a play against Florida at home, and I think I had just hit two 3s and I came down, and it was in transition, and I got like a handoff for a 3 and I shot it, and I’ll never forget the moment of when I shot it, I had just made two and I hit it and then the other team called timeout, I ran down the floor and just stamped up everybody in the crowd, it was crazy.

Q: Another post: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

A: Basically it just means, God is my source. As long as I put the work in, everything takes care of itself.

Q: Who did you look up to as a kid?

A: Probably LeBron [James].

Q: Will he ever be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Why are there so many LeBron haters?

A: They don’t understand what it takes to be that good (laugh), so they have to hate.

Q: The ’96 Bulls versus the 2018 Warriors, who wins?

A: In what rules and regulation?

Q: Today’s rules.

A: Oh the Warriors. . .. You can’t like ride somebody the whole way down the floor like MJ and [Scottie] Pippen used to do. And the league is, I don’t want to say soft, but from what I’ve heard it’s a lot different. They want to see more offense, and back then I feel like they wanted to see more defense.

Q: What did you think of “The Last Dance” documentary?

A: My biggest takeaway was probably just the mentality that Michael Jordan had every day, whether he got into with a teammate or his coaches, he just wanted to win so bad.

Q: Does he remind you of you in that way?

A: Yeah. I’ve never punched one of my teammates in the face, [but] I feel like just his mentality to just get a win at any cost possible, to do anything to win.

Q: If you could pick the brain of any point guard in NBA history, who would it be?

A: Magic Johnson, Steve Nash and Steph Curry.

Q: What was the major thing you took from the book “Relentless”?

A: I think the biggest thing was it was probably about people that achieve success and they don’t get caught up in one success, but they move on to the next thing and try to chase something else. That’s what makes them so great is because they win a championship, and then they’ll see how many more championships they can win when everybody’s still celebrating the one championship they won.

Q: What did you take from “The Energy Bus”?

A: I think it helped me, especially with this long draft process. Basically coming in every day with a positive mindset of trying to get better, trying to inspire other people around you, and everybody wants to be around people that are positive and like-minded and thinking with positive goals.

Q: Meditation?

A: The night before a game at Kentucky, I was envisioning like what plays I wanted to happen and I would see plays, and then in the game, I would actually see those same plays happen in the game.

Q: Describe Coach Cal.

A: He’s gonna push you psychologically. He believes in you, but he wants to see if you believe in yourself before he lets you know that he believes in you. But he does believe in you the whole time, which is kind of hard to see that at first, but now that I’m gone now I see where it comes from. He’s gonna push you to be the best you could be on and off the floor, and he wants to win.

Q: So you have to be mentally tough to play for him?

A: Gotta be.

Q: What is his best motivational ploy?

A: He doesn’t care who you are, if you don’t come to play on a certain night, he’s gonna sit you down.

Q: Describe the toughest single practice under former Kentucky assistant, and now Knicks assistant coach, Kenny Payne?

A: I don’t remember which game, but we had this thing called 15 touches, and it’s full-court 15 touches in a minute, 30 seconds, and I think we ran like three of ’em, and everybody was on the court laying across the ground after the third one ’cause it was just crazy, we were so tired.

Q: Describe winning the gold medal in Spain.

A: It was crazy. That was the first moment I’ve been able to play with really other great players, sacrificing for a team cause. USA we had literally 11 great players on our team, so that was the first time I learned that.

Q: Describe your mother.

A: Somebody who always puts other people first … determined, giving and loves God. If I came home tonight, she would tell me to take the trash out and go do the dishes as soon as I got in.

Q: Another big influence?

A: Jide Sodipo. He was my AAU coach, known him pretty much since eighth grade.

Q: If I came down from Mars, how would you describe Dick Vitale to me?

A: (Chuckle) He could make a boring game between two 80-year-olds into something that you want to see.

Q: Hobbies?

A: I love playing the drums on my free time. Video games, playing “2K,” “Call of Duty,” and I love playing card games.

Q: When did you start playing the drums?

A: Played the drums all my life.

Q: How did that start?

A: Pots and pans, putting ’em on the ground and just started banging on ’em and then eventually I just got good.

Q: Will you have a drum set here?

A: Either that, or going to a local church and play the drums, I’m sure.

Q: You’ve played saxophone, too?

A: I played the saxophone from third grade to ninth grade in high school.

Q: What does music do for you?

A: Everything. It’s kind of like basketball in a way. Sometimes you’re just playing off of what you feel.

Immanuel Quickley
Immanuel Quickley shoots a jump shot.Getty Images

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Michael Jordan, Steph Curry and Kevin Hart.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Coach Carter.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Will Smith.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Chinese or hibachi.

Q: What do you think will it be like playing on the big stage?

A: It’s gonna be cool. I feel like a little bit like Kentucky as far as Kentucky has 25,000 sold out every night no matter who we play, that’s kind of how the New York Knicks are, high expectations just like Kentucky, so I’m ready to get started.

Q: What drives you?

A: Not wanting to be average, want to be the best version of myself, and I think the only way to do that is being to trust God and come in and work hard every single day to be able to achieve what I want to achieve.

Q: You’re driven to be great.

A: Why not aim to be somebody special?