When fate meets faith: Knicks’ Quickley rises as big-time shotmaker

Immanuel Quickley ran to the corner. He received the pass. Set his feet squarely on the floor. Then a quick release. His follow-through stayed in the same position until the ball touched the net—poetry in motion.

Quickley’s corner 3 gave Kentucky its first lead of the second half, 58-57, against eventual NBA top overall pick Anthony Edwards and Georgia. It was the first meeting between the two SEC schools in January last year, 10 months ahead of the NBA Draft. Quickley’s big shot fueled the Wildcats win over the Bulldogs and perhaps his wild journey to the New York Knicks.

After the game, Dice Yoshimoto, who was Georgia’s director of basketball strategy and video at that time, quickly called Tom Thibodeau.

“Watch this kid, Quickley,” Thibodeau said of his conversation with Yoshimoto last year. “He’s like all the small guards that we had in Chicago. He said he had saved every big shot for Kentucky.”

At that time, Thibodeau was out of the league. He was still looking for his next NBA job. Still, that did not stop Thibodeau from following Quickley’s rise to becoming SEC’s Player of the Year under John Calipari at Kentucky. He called William Wesley (World Wide Wes), a powerful behind-the-scenes NBA power broker and a close friend of Calipari, to learn more about Quickley.

“Wes gave me the background on him. And so I continued [ watching him]. I don’t know where I was going to be, but he was someone who was on our radar,” Thibodeau said.

Five months after that phone call, Thibodeau and Wesley found themselves together in New York, tasked to help their close friend Leon Rose rebuild the Knicks franchise. Two months later, Yoshimoto rejoined Thibodeau in his staff. Kenny Payne, Calipari’s top assistant at Kentucky, also joined the Knicks, bringing a wealth of inside intel on Quickley.

Calipari had a glowing recommendation of Quickley ahead of the NBA Draft.

“Immanuel Quickley was the Player of the Year in our league. He’s right up there with the hardest workers spending the most time in the gym, most committed players that I’ve ever had,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media via Zoom call one month before the 2020 NBA Draft. “You better give him a second, third, or fourth look before you pass on him because he’s another one.”

“He spaces the court because he’s making threes. It’s what everybody knows. It’s where the league is going right now? You better be able to make threes. If you can’t, you better have some unbelievable talent; you better have ESP or something like that if you can’t shoot. The game has changed,” Calipari added.

Thibodeau didn’t need more convincing. It did the opposite as it took away some of the Knicks’ advantage on Quickley. Rival teams scampered to get a hold of the quick-rising prospect.

Quickley met with all NBA teams except the Portland Trail Blazers, who shipped their first-round pick for Robert Covington. The Knicks were one of the six teams who interviewed Quickley twice.

“As far as the Knicks are concerned, I think they know more about him more than anybody team in the NBA,” Jide Sodipo, Quickley’s trainer, told Empire Sports Media ahead of the draft.

It proved prescient.

Upon Thibodeau’s recommendation to get a shooter, Wesley reportedly pressed Rose and other front-office members to get Quickley on draft night. Some major sports outlets nitpicked that pick as a reach, but Quickley proved them wrong. He turned out to be a revelation in his rookie year.

On Monday night, it came full circle for Yoshimoto as Quickley did precisely the same play that made him text Thibodeau on that fateful night in January last year.

Quickley’s go-ahead corner 3 with 5:03 left fueled a gut-check 92-84 win over the Indiana Pacers that snapped their two-game losing skid.

Quickley tied Kemba Walker with a team-high 16 points on 4 of 4 three-pointers, each shot a big one.

He was in middle school when Walker had his Cardiac Kemba moment at Madison Square Garden.

The energy and the vibe of that shot and the celebration never left his mind. Quickley always dreamed of hitting big shots on the Garden floor. That’s one of the reasons why Quickley hops up and down the length of the floor in celebration of every big shot he makes.

“It’s just fun playing in the Garden. I ain’t gonna lie. The energy is just crazy,” Quickley said.

The shifty guard quickly became a fan-favorite in New York ever since his signature floater and a long three-pointer became a New York staple as a rookie.

So when Quickley hit the sophomore wall early this season, it was jarring to read a quarter of the #Knicks Twitter crucifying him. In his first nine games, Quickley’s shooting had regressed. He managed to make only 7 of his first 31 three-pointers. It wasn’t what everyone was expecting.

Quickley’s faith was tested. But he was unmoved and unafraid.

“I don’t really look at it as a slow start,” Quickely said. “I look at it as the ball wasn’t just going in and it’s eventually going to go in. The numbers are always going to fall in the place where they are supposed to.”

The early shooting slump did not deter Quickley. Instead, it drove him to work harder and cling to his faith tighter.

“Quick has to be the guy that’s in the gym the most out of everybody.” his teammate RJ Barrett said recently.

The Knicks’ Tarrytown practice facility became an extension of Quickley’s place, just 10 minutes away.

Quickley has always been a relentless worker who possesses a faith that is bigger than his trials. He got those two success-defining traits from his mother, Nitrease Quickley, the former Morgan State sharpshooter and currently a vice principal in Harford County, Md., and his father, Marcellous Quickley, a Christian pastor.

“If you just stick with it, you keep doing and keep working on all the things that you’re supposed to and keep your faith first, everything gonna falls into place,” Quickley said.

True enough, his shots began to fall. Over his last five games, Quickley’s numbers have risen to 13.0 points on a 49/56/92 shooting split, 2.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and only a single turnover in 21.5 minutes off the bench. He had connected on 14 of 25 3s. The last two were much needed by a struggling Knicks team on the brink. The first one tied the game at 74 against the Pacers and the second one, the go-ahead 3, lifted the Knicks over the hump.

“I think we all had a high sense of urgency. Coach [Thibodeau] stressed in the shootaround that we needed this one to get back on the right track,” Quickley said.

Quickley hitting big shot after big shot is nothing new to him and to people who know him. It’s the reason why Yoshimoto was so high on him. And it’s the same reason why Thibodeau and Wesley pushed for him in the draft.

“They (coaches and teammates) always give me a lot of confidence. Obviously, my faith is a big part of who I am so that gives me a lot of confidence when I’m on the floor, and then also I think playing at Kentucky where pretty much every game is a big game. So, it’s a combination of all that stuff,” Quickley said.

The former Nitrease Hamilton was Quickley’s first coach. She watched her son hit his first big shot when he was an eight, nine years old skinny kid. Since that moment, Quickley fell in love with the game.

“I hit a walk-off, stepback three for the game,” Quickley recalled. “Everybody was holding me up high. I’ll never forget that shot. It’s like a dream.”

Quickley is living his dream.

It was his fate to land on this Knicks team. It was his faith that guided him to navigate a difficult start to his sophomore season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Obi Toppin says Knicks rookies are showing why they should play next season

The New York Knicks have upgraded their roster via free agency while maintaining their depth to build on the momentum of their first playoff appearance since 2013.

The Knicks went into the NBA Summer League with a primary focus on Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley’s development as leaders, and they are getting more than what they bargained.

Toppin and Quickley have been balling out in their first NBA Summer League after the event was scratched last year due to the pandemic. The Knicks’ sophomores have been included in The Athletic’s NBA Draft analyst Sam Vecenie’s ‘Too Good for Summer League Team,’ while their rookies have shown plenty of promise.

“It’s been great being out there with those guys, leading those guys, and pushing those guys. Everybody on that team has a heart and loves the hustle. When you’re playing with a bunch of dogs, then your team is fun,” Toppin said after the Knicks chalked up their third win in five Summer League games last Saturday.

In a true Tom Thibodeau fashion, Toppin (36.5 minutes) and Quickley (34.5 minutes) lead the NBA Summer League in playing time. Knicks Summer League coach Daisuke “Dice” Yoshimoto has referred to them as leaders of this team.

Toppin has been productive, averaging 23.0 points (no. 4 in scoring), 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks while shooting 46 percent from the floor and making 2.2 3s per game.

“Obi put in a lot of time over the summer. And it showed. He’s gonna continue to get better, put time in, and the result will gonna take care of itself,” Yoshimoto said. “This is his chance to showcase who he is. He’s gonna continue to put his time in, work hard, and build the right habits.”

The biggest takeaway here is Toppin can produce when used right. Toppin was able to show his potential as a rim runner, roll man, and pick and pop big man as opposed to his ill-fitted role last season as a floor-spacing big man just waiting in the corner.

On the other hand, Quickley, despite his shaky shooting (38 percent overall, 25 percent from 3) in Las Vegas, has made great strides as a lead guard with his 8.0 assists ranking third behind traditional point guards — Atlanta rookie Sharife Cooper (9.0) and Boston’s sophomore Payton Pritchard (8.7). Quickley also averages 21.8 points (no. 7) to go with 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals.

Their rookies Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride, Jericho Sims, and their pick-and-stash Rokas Jokubaitis, who left for Spain, have followed their lead.

“All those guys are doing great. Quick (Quickley) has been doing a great job with Deuce (McBride) and Quentin (Grimes). Jericho (Sims) has been doing a great job listening to all of us and doing his part. Every rookie on [our] team is doing good, and they’re showing Thibs why they should be on the court next season,” Toppin said.

Heeding the advice of Allan Houston and Penny Hardaway, Grimes finally looked like the 3-and-D guy the Knicks have drafted in their last two games, scoring 15 and 28 points, after groping for form in his first three games.

McBride has been stellar running the point in Quickley’s absence (due to a sore groin) against the Cleveland Cavaliers. McBride scored a personal Summer League-best 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting and handed out five assists while playing solid defense (four rebounds, two steals, and one blocked shot).

Through five games, McBride, the 36th pick overall, is averaging 14.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.4 steals with a 50/46/88 shooting split.

Sims has made his first 10 field goals and is leading the Summer League in field goal percentage (88.2 percent) among players who have played at least three games and attempted at least four field goals per game. In four games, Sims has put up 8.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks.

“They are gonna continue to put their time in and get better. Let’s see where they are at training camp,” Yoshimoto said.

Toppin attributed their great on-court chemistry to the culture they had been building in New York since Thibodeau’s arrival last year.

“I feel like just the brotherhood we’ve built. Everybody on our team is very close. We hang out with each other every single day. And we love to compete. Every time we step on that floor, we give it our 110 percent every game, and we’ve got to continue doing that for the season,” Toppin said.

The Knicks will close out their Summer League play against the Atlanta Hawks at 7 p.m. Monday. Toppin and the Knicks are raring to come out with a bang.

“I think one thing we need to focus on is just lock in defensively — having our best defensive game and just having fun out there,” Toppin said. “So, it’s gonna be our last Summer League game, and we need to make a statement going into the new season.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Roll the Dice: Yoshimoto repays Knicks trust with solid NBA Summer League coaching

It’s not only Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin who are taking leadership lessons this summer for the New York Knicks.

Daisuke “Dice” Yoshimoto, the long-time Tom Thibodeau’s right-hand man, is also taking the crash course in his first big break as a coach.

So far, the boyish-looking, 40-year old assistant coach is making the most out of the opportunity.

After the Knicks groped for form in their opening-day loss to the Toronto Raptors, the team has responded to Yoshimoto’s coaching and won the next two games.

“First of all, I want to thank Leon (Rose), Wes (William Wesley), Scott Perry, and coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) for giving me this opportunity to coach this team,” Yoshimoto said after the Knicks’ opening game in the NBA Summer League.

“It’s all about me getting better as well, to keep improving. It’s also a great opportunity for me to showcase what I’ve learned from coach Thibs. I’m biased. I think coach Thibs is the best coach in the league so, I’m very fortunate to be able to learn from him over the course of the years.”

Yoshimoto is just one of the few Asian-Americans coaching in the NBA. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra remains to be the poster boy as the lone Asian-American head coach. Other assistant coaches around the league with Asian heritage are Portland Trail Blazers’ Jonathan Yim, Los Angeles Clippers/Agua Calientes’ Natalie Nakase. Filipino-American Jimmy Alapag, who led the Philippines to the FIBA World Cup in 2015, is trying to join that exclusive club. Alapag is in his second stint as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings’ Summer League team.

Like Spoelstra, Yoshimoto climbed the ranks from the film room to an assistant coach. In Knicks’ first summer league under Thibodeau, they rolled the dice with Yoshimoto.

“I think [diversity] is important. At the same time, I’m focused on getting better. I just want to be the best coach that I can be,” Yoshimoto said.

“I’m just fortunate to be able to learn from guys like coach Thibs over the years. I learn from everybody. I started with coach Mike Fratello and Lawrence Frank and coach Thibs for a long time. Also, coach Mike Malone, I had a chance to work for him before in Denver. Two years ago, I had the chance to work in college for coach Tom Crean. Obviously, this is a great opportunity for me to get better.”

Yoshimoto broke into the NBA as an intern for the New Jersey Nets in 2009 after getting his Master’s degree in Education from Fordham in 2008. Before that, he played Division III basketball and received a bachelor’s degree in Sports, Event, and Entertainment Management from Johnson and Wales University.

As an intern with the Nets, Yoshimoto assisted with player development and coded opponents’ games.

Yoshimoto left the Nets after two seasons and joined Mike Fratello as his head video coordinator for the Ukraine national basketball team. He parlayed his 2011 Euro Championships experience into an NBA job. He started as an assistant video coordinator and was later promoted as head video coordinator with the Chicago Bulls, where he forged a good working relationship with Thibodeau.

When the Bulls fired Thibodeau, Yoshimoto transferred to the Denver Nuggets, holding the same position as the head video coordinator. He linked up again with Thibodeau anew in Minnesota and now with the Knicks. In between his Timberwolves and Knicks stints, he worked with Georgia Bulldogs as their director of basketball strategy and video.

Throughout his NBA journey, he learned how to live code games, scout opponents to help create game plans, edit videos for the coaching staff and players, prepare and present games plans, and work with players daily in film reviews and workouts.

As much as Yoshimoto has empowered Quickley and Toppin to lead the Knicks’ Summer League squad, Thibodeau also did the same to him.

After the Knicks lost to the Raptors, he talked with Thibodeau and looked at the film. He came back strong, guiding the Knicks to win the next two games against Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We talk about games and stuff. He always tells me things that we, collectively, need to work on so that’s why my focus is to try to get this team better. My job is to tell him what I see. I think the team has done a great job responding to that,” Yoshimoto said.

Thibodeau values loyalty. He demands it as much as he gives it to anyone who deserves it. Yoshimoto has earned Thibodeau’s trust, and as much as this NBA Summer League coaching job is one of those rewards, it is also the coach’s way of building the team’s culture.

Thibodeau often harped building a team of leaders. He made one out of Julius Randle last season. Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson became leaders in Chicago that Thibodeau now leans on in New York. He wants to do the same with Quickley and Toppin through Yoshimoto. And in the process, developing Yoshimoto, too.

This is the Thibs’ way — a culture of leadership and accountability.

You can sense the humility, often perceived as shyness when the soft-spoken Yoshimoto speaks during the Summer League postgame interviews. As Yoshimoto’s Japanese features are more pronounced, Thibodeau is empowering him to embrace his heritage and break the Asian stereotypes.

“He just tells me to be me, and I’ve got to be comfortable with my own skin. And I’ve got to find my voice, and that’s what I’m doing right now,” Yoshimoto said.

So far, he’s pushing the right buttons and making the proper adjustments. The young Knicks team has responded well to him. He commanded their respect that resulted in their fine play this summer.

Of course, Yoshimoto wanted to win and make a splash in his first coaching break. But the heart and core of these Summer League games aren’t lost on him.

“Obviously, it’s important to have [progress] in terms of the development of players and being able to win some games. There’s a fine line in between, and we have to find that balance where we can do both. We need to keep building the culture,” Yoshimoto said.

So far, so good.

Quickley, Toppin, and some of the Knicks rookie standouts like Miles McBride and Jericho Sims are all basking in the afterglow of their solid NBA Summer League campaign. Yoshimoto is content to be in the background.

“I just focus on what I have to do. I just concentrate on getting this team to play at the highest level they could,” he said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks add Tom Thibodeau’s trusted assistants and Mike Woodson (report)

New york Knicks, Mike Woodson

The New York Knicks are on the verge of adding Tom Thibodeau’s most trusted guys Andy Greer and Dice Yoshimoto, along with former Knicks coach Mike Woodson according to multiple reports.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.

Greer and Yoshimoto are no strangers to Thibodeau.  They have been with him since his first head coaching gig in Chicago.

Greer, who recently served as Mike Fratello’s assistant on the USA Olympic Qualifying Team, has been Thibodeau’s defensive coordinator in both Chicago and Minnesota.

Greer and Thibodeau have gone a long way since working together under Jeff Van Gundy’s staff and later on under Don Chaney in New York in the early 2000s.

Greer served as Thibodeau’s defensive coordinator in his last two stops while Yoshimoto has been a “swiss knife” starting out as video coordinator in Chicago and later on becoming a special assistant to the president of basketball operations in Minnesota.  Yoshimoto has also been involved with the University of Georgia as director of basketball strategy and video.

Woodson, meanwhile, has interviewed for the head coaching post, which eventually went to Thibodeau. He’s built a reputation in New York as a modern offensive coach who demanded accountability.  He’s been the last successful Knicks coach in almost two decades.

During the Knicks’ run to the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2012-13 season, he guided the team to the third-best offensive rating at 111.1. He was also ahead of the curve as he relied on 3-point shooting to surround Carmelo Anthony. They led the league in both attempts and made 3-pointers per game while ranking fifth in percentage.

After being fired by Phil Jackson the following year, he went on to serve as an assistant coach in the Los Angeles Clippers from 2014-2018.  Prior to coaching the Knicks, he was the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks from 2004-2010, guiding the team to three consecutive playoff appearances.

The three new assistants will join Kenny Payne and associate head coach Jonnie Bryant under Thibodeau in New York.