Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Rookie Immanuel Quickley draws confidence from God as he helps Knicks make playoff push

It was 2013 the last time the New York Knicks made the playoffs, but this 2020-2021 team may just be the one to reverse the franchise’s fortunes.

After a 120-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, New York improved its record to 34-27 and extended its current winning streak to nine games, including wins over the Dallas Mavericks and the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers. New York currently sits in a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, seven games behind the conference-leading Brooklyn Nets.

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With a successful blend of veteran leadership and young talent, first-year Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau (2011 NBA Coach of the Year with the Bulls) has his team playing with a newfound energy, focus and competitiveness. The players have bought in; the camaraderie is palpable.

“The unselfishness to play for each other, and we’ve had a number of different people step up at the end of games and make plays for us,” Thibodeau told the Knick Wall last week, “and nothing is more important than playing for the team.”

In addition to a number of players like Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett enjoying career-best seasons, the Knicks have been bolstered by the production of rookie guard Immanuel Quickley. The 25th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft out of Kentucky is averaging 11.7 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists in a little over 19 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-3, 21-year-old rookie is making 38.9 percent of his threes, 89.2 percent of his free throws and has found his niche off the bench, once erupting for a career-high 31 points in a contest in January. Some writers have even dubbed him the “steal” of the 2020 draft after the Knicks at first received criticism for drafting him.

“There’s always going to be doubters out there and, honestly, I thrive on stuff like that,” Quickley told the Undefeated last week. “I love being the underdog, and I enjoy proving those people wrong.”

Quickley’s competitive, fearless spirit, he says, comes through his faith in God.

All my confidence comes from God,” he was quoted as saying last week by New York Daily News reporter Kristian Winfield. “Without Him I’m nothing, but with Him, all things are possible.”

The oft-overlooked Quickley has had little choice but to develop his confidence in a sea of uncertainty. His draft-night trade to New York came as an afterthought due to the Knicks’ pick of 2020 Naismith Player of the Year Obi Toppin at No. 8 overall.

When Quickley was a freshman at Kentucky, he came off the bench and averaged a meager 5.2 points, and some thought he may transfer. Quickley decided to stick with the Wildcats through adversity. Upon returning to Lexington for his sophomore year in 2020, he began doing devotionals twice a day after a guest speaker at his home church prophesied over his life.

“I decided to start showing who I was, that I’m not just a basketball player,” he told The Athletic in January 2020. “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.”

Thanks in part to his parents, Nitrease and Marcellous Quickley, Immanuel was active in his church growing up, sometimes attending services two or three times each week. Since then, God has been at work in his heart and his faith has become his own.

Quickley, who declared for the draft after a breakout sophomore season, is vocal about his faith on social media and elsewhere. His Twitter handle is @IQ_GodSon and he says “God 1st” in his bio.

His strong faith is also evident in a series of videos titled “Walking in My Purpose” that he’s posted on his YouTube channel. In a video he made after being drafted, 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.”

Quickley will continue to rely on God during the Knicks’ surprising success and his own exciting, if unfamiliar, national praise.

He and his New York teammates have 11 games remaining in this season’s shorter 72-game regular season, starting with a matchup against the Western Conference’s second-place team, the Phoenix Suns. The game is set for Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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