Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

N.Y. Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley grounded by faith as he aims to prove doubters wrong

NBA training camps are underway for 2020-21, following the shortest offeseason in history, which followed the most unique season in history due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teams will play 72 games this upcoming year, as opposed to the usual 82.

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Many eyes — as usual, due to the market in which they play — will be on the New York Knicks, who left the 2020 NBA Draft last month with two first-round selections. They chose Obi Toppin out of Dayton with the No. 8 pick, and then traded for Immanuel Quickley out of Kentucky, who was selected at No. 25 by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Much of the rookie focus will be on Toppin, last season’s winner of the Naismith and Wooden Player of the Year awards. Quickley, meanwhile, is somewhat accustomed to being overlooked. Despite being a McDonald’s high school All-American and enrolling at powerhouse Kentucky, he came off the bench and averaged just 5.2 points as a freshman. Some critics called for him to transfer.

But as a sophomore in 2019-20, Quickley’s 16.1 points led the Wildcats in scoring, and he was named the SEC’s Player of the Year.

That strong performance led to him declaring for the draft, but many “experts” pegged him as a mid-to-late second-round pick. Few mock drafts, if any, had him going in the first round.

“A lot of people don’t understand really the pre-draft and what teams are looking at,” Quickley said on a Zoom call with the media last week. “Mock drafts are just what they think and what they go on from the season. My team and myself knew what I had done during the season. We knew how hard I’d worked, we knew how I did in workouts, interviews. I felt pretty comfortable going into the draft.”

Knicks assistant coach Kenny Payne, who was hired in August after being an assistant at Kentucky, knows and speaks well of Quickley, as does UK head coach John Calipari.

“Immanuel was an absolute pleasure to coach over the last two years,” Calipari said in a statement when Quickley announced his intention to enter the draft. “I had as much fun coaching him and watching him grow than just about any player I’ve ever coached. … he absolutely works his tail off. He takes his conditioning seriously, has unbelievable discipline, unwavering faith, confidence and spent just about all of his extra time in that gym.”

That “unwavering faith” comes from being raised in a Christian household, but was strengthened during his time at Kentucky. The night before he returned to school for his sophomore season, a guest speaker at an event hosted by his home church — someone who had never met Quickley — asked to pray for him. Quickley began doing devotionals twice a day when he got back to campus, largely as a result of the conversation he had with the guest speaker.

“And I decided to start showing who I was, that I’m not just a basketball player,” he told The Athletic in January. “That I’m a Christian who happens to play basketball. I wanted to get that out there. That’s part of the reason I probably wasn’t ready to blossom [freshman] year, because I really wasn’t showing my faith and showing who I was for Jesus.”

Quickley’s faith is evident on social media, where his Twitter handle is @IQ_GodSon and he says “God 1st” in his bio. Upon getting drafted, he posted, “GOD IS SOOOOO GOOOODD.”

Quickley’s strong faith is also evident in a series of videos titled “Walking in My Purpose” that he’s been posting on his YouTube channel. In the latest video, released Friday, Quickley showed off his draft night suit, which had “God is with us, Romans 8:28” embroidered on the inside. He then quoted the verse: “We know that all things work together for the good of those that love God and are called according to His purpose.”

After getting selected on draft night and sharing emotional embraces with numerous family members, the video showed Quickley hugging his mother, Nitrease. “I just appreciate everything,” he told her.

“Nothing’s changed,” she responded, before paraphrasing Matthew 6:33. “Seek first His way of doing things and everything else is going to fall into place.”

Before draft night ended, Quickley wanted to worship. He called out to those who had gathered with him that they should put on some “Marvin Sapp.” They all then sang the gospel singer’s song, “Never Would Have Made It.”

“It’s unbelievable,” Quickley said in the video. “If y’all was in my shoes you wouldn’t even know how I made it, but God made a way.”

The Knicks — who have a new president in Leon Rose and a new coach in Tom Thibodeau — begin their preseason Friday in Detroit. New York hasn’t made the playoffs or had a winning record since 2012-13.

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