New York Knicks: Calipari explains Payne’s impact on Randle’s All-Star rise

The New York Knicks‘ status as a real playoff contender will be legitimized by a Julius Randle selection in the NBA All-Star Game.

Randle is knocking on the All-Star Game door after an impressive start to the season. He’s dragging a young Knicks team to the playoffs conversations in a season many analysts thought would be a lottery year.

Randle is in the midst of a career year in the NBA — 23.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 40.7 percent from deep, all career-highs. And more importantly, as Tom Thibodeau pointed out, Randle has impacted winning in New York.

With Randle leading the way, the Knicks have won 14 of their first 30 games, good for the seventh spot in the East. Barring any second-half meltdown, the Knicks are on pace to outplay ESPN‘s projections (24.7 average wins and 2% playoff chances).

Randle’s Herculean effort hasn’t gone unnoticed as he finished seventh in the Eastern Conference frontcourt starters voting — seventh in fans votes, eighth in players votes, and fifth in media votes.

The coaches are set to pick the seven reserves, which will be announced on Tuesday.

Comfortable being uncomfortable

Randle revealed in the Old Man and the Three podcast yesterday that the Knicks executive vice president William Wesley called him in the offseason and asked him what he needs to go to the next level.

His response foreshadowed what is happening right now: “I need a coach who will push me and hold me accountable.”

Tom Thibodeau is what Randle has ordered. But he got more than what he bargained.

Kenny Payne, the man responsible for whipping Randle and a slew of Kentucky big men into becoming an NBA lottery pick, also came on board.

“One of the things that I told the Knicks when they were considering Kenny is that: ‘Understand now, if you want to see what Julius can be — he’s a good guy because they have a great relationship and Kenny will push him and make him uncomfortable until he’s comfortable being uncomfortable.’ You know how it’s done,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told Empire Sports Media via zoom call.

Unlocking Knox

Calipari also sold Payne to the Knicks as the key to unlocking their other underwhelming Kentucky product.

“And I also told them Kevin Knox, who was playing really good early, you’re gonna find out what he is,” Calipari said.

For the early part of the season, when injuries ravaged the Knicks, Knox had his moments. At one point, he was leading the league in corner three-pointers. However, it was short-lived as the team got healthy and Knox got buried under the Knicks’ new-found depth.

“They’re not playing [Kevin] as much because they’re trying over guys to play snippets and trying to figure out who’s who. But I think it’s been great,” Calipari said.

Big man’s whisperer

At Kentucky, Payne was the good cop to Calipari’s bad cop. In New York, Payne does the dirty work for Thibodeau.

Payne is always on the ears of the Knicks’ big men. Clips of him personally training the Knicks’ frontcourt — from Randle to Mitchell Robinson and Obi Toppin — went viral in the offseason. Oftentimes, on the MSG broadcast, you catch him in the pregame, stretching out Randle and assisting in his shootaround. During the games, you see him barking instructions or explaining the game situations to players from the sidelines.

Randle’s reunion with Payne made his transformation under the very detailed and hard Thibodeau coaching more effective.

“Julius is having an All-Star year. And the Knicks, if they stay in this playoff hunt, and they’re in there, there’s no reason — Julius in the biggest market had averaged in double-double just dragging the team and motivating his team and doing what he’s doing — for that not to happen for him personally,” Calipari said.

If it does happen, thanks in large part to Payne.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Calipari believes Rose is the ideal Quickley mentor

knicks, derrick rose, immanuel quickley, taj gibson

The New York Knicks have brought in Derrick Rose, not as a savior, but as a mentor.

Save for a dud against Orlando, and the ploy seems working for the Knicks.

The Rose effect has been felt immediately with the Knicks sneaking into the playoffs picture, winning three of their five games since the former MVP arrived via trade from Detroit. They currently sit at the seventh spot with a 14-16 record.

The trepidation among the Knicks fan base was quickly replaced with a warm reception.

Rose hasn’t taken away minutes from fan-favorite and their quickly rising rookie Immanuel Quickley. The Knicks are outscoring their opponents by 34 points in the 94 minutes Tom Thibodeau rolled a lineup with the Rose-Quickley tandem, per

It’s a small sample size, but it’s an encouraging sign.

Both players are quick and electric. They have a knack for explosive scoring since both were molded under the same legendary college coach.

Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari believes the Knicks have struck gold with his former players’ backcourt pairing.

“Both are terrific people and teammates,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media via zoom call on Friday. [Rose] would never take a picture unless his teammates are with him. He didn’t want the stuff by himself. Immanuel is the same way. All the good stuff he’s doing and how he’s playing, you listen, he’ll defer to his team. He’s an unbelievable teammate.”

Rose was a one-and-done prospect who blossomed into the NBA’s consensus No.1 pick under Calipari when he was still with the Memphis Tigers. Quickley, on the other hand, recently played for Calipari at Kentucky and won SEC Player of the Year honors before entering the NBA.

While there were ramblings about their fit before Rose’s second go-round with the Knicks, they were all washed away.

Quickley is averaging 14.0 points and 2.4 assists on 21.4 minutes since Rose’s arrival. Meanwhile, Rose has put up 11.2 points and 3.4 assists in 20.6 minutes for the Knicks this season.

“They’re different in that Immanuel was more of a shooting scorer. Both have great runners or floaters. Derrick wanted to pass first, at least when I got him. He passed first and then look to score. Immanuel is more of a scorer who can pass. They are different in that way. But I’m gonna tell you both — you know there’s not one time I don’t text or talk to them and say ‘I love you coach’. — [These] are great human beings. They’re great young men,” Calipari said.

Rose and Quickley’s near similar skillsets have allowed Thibodeau to keep their opponents second-guessing on defense as both guards can play well off and on the ball.

Thibodeau’s player development is anchored on accountability and playing with a winning mentality instead of wantonly letting his young guys play big minutes and learn on the fly.  He’s surrounded his young core with veterans who understands his demands.

There’s no doubt in Calipari’s mind that Rose will serve as the ideal mentor to Quickley.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: ‘Gym rat’ Immanuel Quickley ready for training camp

New York Knicks, Immanuel Quickley

New York Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley hasn’t changed his routine even after getting picked in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft.

There’s not a single day he missed going to the gym.

Even during the Draft Night, Quickley’s mother had to talk him out going to the gym.

That’s how dedicated Quickley is to his craft. He’s been preparing hard to prove that he’s worthy of the first-round selection when all mock drafts have slotted him late in the second round.

“He’s been in New York all month and in the Knicks’ facility since last week,” Quickley’s former AAU coach-turned personal trainer and adviser Jide Sodipo told Empire Sports Media.

Before Quickley was cleared to work out in the team’s practice facility in Westchester, he frequented the gym of former Knicks trainer-turned-independent NBA Skills trainer Chris Brickley in downtown New York. Quickley has also linked up with former NBA sharpshooter Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who is also working out Knicks guard Dennis Smith, Jr.

‘Nothing has changed’

For Quickley, the NBA Draft Night wasn’t the culmination of his hard work. It’s only the beginning of another mission, another challenge to overcome.

Sodipo has been with Quickley every step of the way since he was in eighth grade. And even now that Quickley has already reached his NBA dream, Sodipo never left his side. He’s accompanying Quickley to navigate his rookie season in the Big Apple. 

Sodipo worked him out every day in a gym near Quickley’s residence to prepare for the Draft. While Sodipo is proud of Quickley’s progress, he’s even prouder that his ward has kept his feet on the ground even after the high selection.

Quickley has been using that as a motivation to earn his spurs in the cramped training camp that will begin Tuesday. They will only have ten days before the Knicks play their first preseason game in Detroit.

“Nothing has changed. He’s still a gym rat,” Sodipo said of Quickley. “He’s a special young man, very focused. He’s a young man that really loves the game.”

‘It feels like Kentucky all over again’

Quickley will be tested towards the end of the week when group practices will be allowed. If there’s anything that is going his way, it’s the fact that he’s been in this type of situation before. His rookie season seems like Kentucky all over again.

Of course, former Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne will ease his transition to the team. But Quickley has to compete again and prove he’s worthy of a spot in the Knicks’ crowded backcourt that will have playoff veteran Austin Rivers and holdovers Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith, Jr., and Frank Ntilikina.

This is one reason why Quickley has stuck with the Wildcats even after a disappointing freshman season. Rather than run from it and look for a school that will give him playing time, he embraced the challenge to compete again in a crowded Kentucky backcourt in his sophomore year.

He adjusted his game from being a point guard to playing off the ball on his way to becoming the SEC Player of the Year.

John Calipari, Quickley’s college coach, knows that his stint with the Wildcats has prepared him for this challenge.

“I think what you’re going to find out is a guy that mentally is ready, is on a mission, is a gym rat, is a culture guy. Great faith, a big family that unconditionally loves him, and he knows it, and he’s comfortable in his skin,” Calipari said via zoom last week. “They made a great one. It was a hell of a pick.”

It was a hell of a ride for Quickley, too, just to get here.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: Kevin Knox enters make-or-break season

New York Knicks, Kevin Knox

Kevin Knox must have heaved a sigh of relief after Gordon Hayward decided to go to the Charlotte Hornets rather than to the New York Knicks.

Knox dodged a bullet there.

With no Hayward, Knox has a clearer path to earning a significant role under new head coach Tom Thibodeau with only veterans Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks, and 2019 second-round pick Ignas Brazdeikis crowding him for minutes in the small forward position.

But Knox has to earn and work for it, according to Tom Thibodeau, whose win-now mentality doesn’t bode well for a young and inconsistent player like the version of Knox we have seen in his first two seasons in the league.

Knox hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations after he was picked ahead of the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter, Jr. — two players who have exceeded their draft positions — in the 2018 NBA Draft.

After he was showcased in his rookie year, averaging 12.8 points in 28.8 minutes per game, Knox’s minutes and consequently his performance dropped to 6.9 points in just 17.9 minutes as David Fizdale coached for his job last season.

Knox’s confidence hit rock-bottom.

Knocking on Thib’s door

Despite Knox’s lackluster sophomore year, the Knicks’ new front office hasn’t given up on the former lottery pick and wanted to give him his fair shake.

They brought Kenny Payne, Knox’s biggest supporter in his corner during his lone season at Kentucky.

“Kevin Knox, let’s see how good he can be and that’s why you want a Kenny Payne with you,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said recently.

Before Payne came to the Knicks as one of their new assistant coaches, Knox has also worked out with renowned shooting coach Chris Matthews, known as Lethal Shooter on social media.

Add Camden High School coach Rick Brunson to the list of player development coaches who have worked out Knox.

Brunson, Thibodeau’s assistant during his brief stop at Minnesota and Leon Rose’s first client as an NBA agent, has worked out Knox in South Jersey along with Knicks’ rookies Obi Toppin and Myles Powell ahead of this year’s draft.

All signs point to Knox making a leap next season. Whether that will be big enough to keep him in New York or be sent somewhere else is up to him.

The Knicks still view him as a valuable piece of their young core.

For instance, take their reluctance to send Knox to Oklahoma City Thunder in a package that could have netted them All-Star point guard Chris Paul as another sign.

But this doesn’t mean Knox is completely off the hook.

Next season, his team option will be crucial to the Knicks’ plan of opening up a $70 million cap space, which is good for two max slots. 

If Knox finally breaks out, then the Knicks won’t have a hard time picking up his team option.

But if not, it’s time to pack up.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Nerlens Noel poised for breakthrough season with New York Knicks

karl anthony-towns, knicks

The New York Knicks have made the signing of Nerlens Noel official on Wednesday.

Noel, who last played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, signed a one-year, $5 million deal to fortify the Knicks frontcourt with third-year center Mitchell Robinson.

Noel averaged 7.4 points on 68.4 percent shooting, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 18.5 minutes of play last season, primarily serving as Steven Adams’ backup.

He joined Robinson and Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert as the only three NBA players to appear in at least 50 games and record a field goal percentage of 68-percent or greater and average at least 1.5 blocks.

Noel, the sixth overall pick in 2013, has yet to live up to the hype after entering the league as the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in his lone season in college with the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Wildcats coach John Calipari believes his former player is poised for a big season with the Knicks.

“Nerlens was a great pickup, and let me tell you why,” Calipari said recently. “It’s time to break through for him. Now, what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to do it, they’re not trying to do it in a hurry. They have a terrific coach, a proven coach, a playoff coach.”

Noel will be reunited with Kenny Payne, the Knicks’ new assistant coach plucked from Kentucky. Noel will be the fourth former Wildcat in the Knicks roster, joining Julius Randle, Kevin Knox, and rookie Immanuel Quickley.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Keep The Faith: Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley wants to prove doubters wrong

New York Knicks, Immanuel Quickley

There were a lot of emotions when New York Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley heard NBA commissioner Adam Silver called his name on NBA Draft Night.

Quickley quickly had a FaceTime call with University of Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari right after and the first thing he said:

Quickley’s faith had never wavered even when people began to dismiss him after an underwhelming freshman year at Kentucky. Coming in as a five-star recruit, Quickley struggled to find his footing, averaging only 5.2 points on a 37 percent clip in 18.5 minutes of play.

“I feel like the “they” can be anybody. You’re trying to not only prove people wrong but prove yourself right. I feel like a lot of people after my freshman year at Kentucky gave up on me and said – I should transfer, I should leave, I’m not going to be good enough. I just screenshotted everything I saw that said I wasn’t going to be good enough,” Quickley said on MSG Network’s new morning show MSG A.M.

“And I took it to my workouts and made a list of goals and things like that. That’s the stuff that I’ll take with me even to the next level as far as just trying to prove other people wrong, trying to prove myself right, and to just continue to keep working hard.”

Quickley, a devout Christian, showed his faith is bigger than the challenges he faced.

Even when he started his sophomore year riding the bench with fellow sophomore Ashton Haggans and freshman Tyrese Maxey starting at Kentucky’s backcourt, Quickley didn’t sulk.  

He trusted the process. He had so much faith in Calipari.

Quickley became a Calipari fan during their stint at Team USA that settled for the bronze medal in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup.

Canada, led by his future Knicks teammate RJ Barrett’s 40 points, ousted them in the semifinals, 99-85. Quickley averaged 6.7 points and had a total of 17 assists in seven games to help Team USA salvage a bronze medal finish.

Little did he know that Calipari was also a fan of Quickley, the third-ranked point guard of the 2018 class.

Calipari made him a priority during the recruiting process.

So when Quickley was struggling at Kentucky, Calipari wasn’t quick to give up on him.

Calipari didn’t dive into Quickley’s struggle. What he saw was Quickley’s drive.

“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.

“Last year, we went to three guards. I wasn’t doing that early in the year, but as the year went on, I just said, ‘Immanuel Quickley, he needs to be starting.’ That means somebody else couldn’t start. [Quickley] ended up being Player of the Year in our league, but he trusted me to figure it out.”

When Calipari gave him his shot to start, Quickley quickly seized the opportunity.

Quickley went on a tear, punching in double-digit scoring in 20 consecutive games — the longest streak by a Wildcat since Malik Monk (30) in 2016-17. His marksmanship was on full display, hitting at least one three-pointer in his last 11 games, including a career-high eight on his way to a 30-point performance in a 69-60 win against Texas A&M last February.

He wound up his sophomore year as the SEC Player of the Year after averaging 16.1 points, deriving his points from high-volume three-point shooting and getting to the line.

He averaged 2.1 threes on a remarkable 42.8 percent three-point shooting clip. And he hit 92 percent of his 5.2 free throw attempts.

“For me, it’s more I knew I could do it all along. It’s really just about everything coming together. And once you get that opportunity on the floor, just seizing the moment. And really just not looking back. That’s what I feel like happened. I was given that opportunity, and as soon as I got it, I ran with it. And that’s what I’m going to look forward to at the next level,” Quickley said.

When the pandemic canceled the college season and moved the NBA Draft, Quickley faced it like the way he did at Kentucky: being patient and keeping his faith in the process.

“The hardest part this year was how long the wait was. In a usual draft process, you get done with the basketball season in April if you go far, and the draft is in June. But for us, it ended in March, and the draft was in November. So it was just a really long wait, and you had to really be patient with the process. And I feel like it’s going to help us in the long run as far as being in the NBA,” Quickley said.

Quickley embraced the long wait and saw it as an opportunity to prepare himself better for the NBA grind. His long-time trainer and former AAU coach Jide Sodipo tirelessly worked with him to improve all the aspects of his game, especially his shooting, which will be his biggest weapon at the next level.

Calipari was quick to say Quickley’s shooting will be a boon to a Knicks team who finished 27th in three-point shooting last season.

“He (Immanuel) 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 said.

Sodipo has so much faith in Quickley that his game will translate better in the NBA than in Kentucky.

“He brings more to the game than just his shooting. You’ve only seen around 50 or 60 percent of his game [in college], I can tell you. And that’s gonna surprise a lot of people,” Sodipo told Empire Sports Media on the phone.

Quickley had met almost every NBA team, but none had the intel like what Kenny Payne, the former Calipari’s lead assistant, and Kentucky’s chief recruiter, brought to the Knicks.

“As far as the Knicks are concerned, I think they know more about him more than anybody team in the NBA,” Sodipo said before the draft.

Quickley, who was projected as a late second-round pick, was already more than happy to be selected in the first round. But he became doubly excited when he learned that the Knicks have traded for his rights because he gets to be reunited to be with Payne, the man who stuck with him and worked with him on closed doors throughout his roller-coaster ride in college.

“At Kentucky, he was someone who would scream at you on the court or in practice. But he would be that first one with you in the gym that same night or early morning. He was someone that really sacrificed not only on the floor but off the floor too. As far as me getting to the Knicks, he is someone that is going to push me. I know he’s going to push me to be the best I can be and take what I want. And I’m just glad to have him,” Quickley said.

Quickley will be fighting for his spot in the Knicks’ crowded backcourt with holdovers Dennis Smith, Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Elfrid Payton, plus newcomers Austin Rivers and Jacob Evans, two-way player Theo Pinson and undrafted rookie Myles Powell.

Quickley has been in the same tough spot before. He already knew how to attack it.

This is the ‘why’ he was talking about.

He chose to stick with the loaded Kentucky team because he knew he’d face the same adversity in the NBA.

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

But Quickley has a faith bigger than the chip on his shoulder.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks Draft Watch: John Calipari warns NBA teams not to sleep on Immanuel Quickley

The New York Knicks have met Kentucky Wildcat Immanuel Quickley twice ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft. 

Devin Booker and Tyler Herro were two of the most recent former University of Kentucky guards who got overlooked in the NBA Draft.

Immanuel Quickley is poised to be the next sleeper in the Draft from Hall of Fame coach John Calipari’s program.

“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. “You better give him a second, third, or fourth look before you pass on him because he’s another one.”

Booker and Herro were selected 13th overall in the 2015 and 2019 NBA Draft, respectively. And they have both outplayed their draft position.

With Herro’s rousing rookie season still fresh in league scouts and executives’ minds, the sweet-shooting Quickley has seen his draft stock rise with more and more teams showing strong interest recently.

According to his trainer and former AAU coach Jide Sodipo, Quickley has talked to almost all NBA teams except the Portland Trail Blazers.

And of the 29 teams, Quickley has already interviewed twice with the Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, and the Miami Heat.

“They were trying to find out more about his character. Not only about basketball. What kind of a young man he is,” Sodipo told Empire Sports Media over the phone. “And as far as the Knicks are concerned, I think they know more about him more than anybody team in the NBA.”

Of course, the Knicks have former Kentucky lead assistant and chief recruiter Kenny Payne in their fold. Payne has the intel that might help persuade the Knicks front office to take a gamble on Quickley’s potential.

Quickley could be in play for the Knicks’ 27th or even 38th pick if he’s still on board. But Sodipo has a firm belief that his ward won’t last past the first round.

In most scouting reports, Quickly is a scoring guard with a knack for hitting the outside shot. It’s the same type of profile that has made Herro a riser in last year’s NBA Draft.

“He (Immanuel) 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 said.

Quickley further cemented his status as a reliable scorer when he ended his collegiate career with 20 consecutive double-digit scoring games — the longest streak by a Wildcat since Malik Monk (30) in 2016-17.  On top of that, he has also hit at least one three-pointer in his last 11 games, including a career-high eight on his way to a 30-point performance in a 69-60 win against Texas A&M last February.

Quickley has the shooting skill to carve out a role in the modern NBA. But he is more than just a shooter, according to Sodipo.

“People don’t understand that he was a pass-first point guard all of his life. He loves to share the ball and bring out the best in his teammates. But you know, when you go to a school like Kentucky, you have to sacrifice,” Sodipo explained. “Sometimes, you have to play a role. That’s what’s asked of you. What he did was he made the most out of it.”

To better understand and appreciate Quickley, you have to look at the roster makeup of the Wildcats.

During Quickley’s freshman year, Kentucky had a crowded backcourt with Hagans, Herro, and Quade Green.

Then in his sophomore year, Tyrese Maxey came in. Both Maxey (29.2 percent) and Hagans (25.8 percent) didn’t shoot well from the outside, and Quickley quickly jumped into the opportunity.

“Last year we went to three guards. I wasn’t doing that early in the year, but as the year went on, I just said, ‘Immanuel Quickley, he needs to be starting.’ That means somebody else couldn’t start. [Quickley] ended up being Player of the Year in our league, but he trusted me to figure it out.” Calipari said.

After averaging just 5.2 points per game as a freshman, Quickley led the Wildcats in scoring (16.1 ppg), made 3-pointers (62), 3-point percentage (.428), free throws made (144), attempted (156), and free throw percentage (.923) during as a sophomore to become the fifth SEC Player of the Year under Calipari.

That’s part of the myth surrounding former Wildcats who have exploded in the NBA. Because Calipari’s program has been perennially loaded with talent, players like Booker, Herro, Bam Adebayo, and now Quickley have been victims of circumstances that, in a way, held their game back.

That’s one of the biggest reasons why Quickley has the “Sleeper” tag.

“He brings more to the game than just his shooting.  You’ve only seen around 50 or 60 percent of his game [in college], I can tell you. And that’s gonna surprise a lot of people,” Sodipo said.


Quickley can get hot quickly on offense. He could find a role similar to what Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams have perfected in their respective long NBA careers — offensive spark off the bench.

Defensively, Quickley has the length (6’9 and 3/4″ wingspan from his Draft Combine measurement last week) and the quickness to be a disruptor.

If there’s anyone who knows Quickley’s game in and out, it’s Sodipo, who’s been coaching Quickley since 2015.

“He can handle the ball. He’s a true point guard that can score. He has a great basketball IQ. He’s great in pick and roll. He’s a great defender and can rebound, and that’s his game that people don’t know unless you really watch his game and go back to his freshman year, his high school years,” Sodipo said.

Quickley was a decorated high school player and was one of the nation’s top point guards. He was a McDonald’s All-American and the 10th best prospect by and 12th by ESPN coming out of high school in 2017.

In his sophomore year, he hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to lead The John Carroll School Patriots to a 51–50 win over Mount Saint Joseph High School in the Baltimore Catholic League championship. He earned All-Metro Player of the Year recognition.

In his junior year, he averaged 23.7 points and 7.2 assists per game and was named to the First Team All-Metro. As a senior, he normed 20.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 3.7 steals per game and led the team to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title.

He was a shotmaker and a playmaker in high school, but he had to adjust his game in college to fit within Kentucky’s system.

Throughout the years, Sodipo has come to know Quickley deeper than everybody else in the 21-year old’s basketball circle.

“He’s a special young man, very focused. He’s a young man that really loves the game,” Sodipo said.

Quickley comes from a family with a reputable background that speaks volumes of his character.

“His mother is a high school principal. His father is a church minister,” Sodipo said.

Quickley’s faith and a balanced lifestyle have helped him navigate a bumpy collegiate career where he understood that he had to earn his spot despite being a five-star recruit out of high school.

“He’s always in the gym, getting better at his craft. He’s somebody that he wants to get better,” Sodipo said.

“But when he was growing up, he’s played drums and other musical instruments. He’s been studious and religious. He’s a really fine, talented young man.”

Quickley checks all the boxes for teams looking for a high-character guy who has NBA skills to match.

Sodipo has been training him non-stop in a private gym just five minutes from the Quickley’s residence.

“We’ve been working on his game, getting stronger, working on his strength and conditioning, shooting, ball handling, passing drills and everything,” Sodipo said.

Quickley is determined to prove to everyone that he’s more than just a shooter and a sleeper in this unpredictable Draft class.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks Draft Watch: John Calipari views Tyrese Maxey as smaller version of Jamal Murray

In the 2016 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks missed out on a big-time scoring guard from the University of Kentucky, the leading producer of NBA stars.

The Knicks’ lottery pick that year was earlier sent to the Denver Nuggets as part of the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster trade. The Nuggets used the Knicks’ original pick (seventh overall) to select former Wildcat Jamal Murray.

Murray, as it turned out, is the real deal and he quickly became one of the league’s rising stars. The Denver Nuggets guard’s sensational play in the NBA Bubble has left team executives who passed on him scratching their heads.

This year, another big-time scorer under John Calipari’s program has entered the NBA Draft. One-and-done freshman Tyrese Maxey could be the answer to the Knicks’ backcourt riddle with his dynamic scoring and moxie.

“I’m trying to tell everybody when you look at Tyrese, he’s a smaller version, but he’s still 6’2”, of Jamal Murray who is 6’5”. They both have that lower release. Everybody said Jamal would never get it off,” Calipari told Empire Sports Media during his Zoom call with select media on Monday.

Murray though came into the Draft as a projected top-five Lottery pick but somehow slipped a couple of notches down because of doubts whether he was athletic enough to thrive in the league.

He proved all the skeptics wrong as his game and his low released shot translated well in the NBA.

Maxey isn’t viewed as highly as Murray was. Most boards have Maxey as a late lottery pick in a Draft that has become as unpredictable as it hasn’t been in recent years. Aside from his apparent lack of size (6’1″ without shoes and with only 6’6″ wingspan), Maxey is facing the same questions Murray had in 2016.

“Jamal played with Tyler Ulis so [people] said, is he a point guard? They’re point guards. We’re teaching them to play with the ball and without the ball. And now it becomes: do they make game-winning shots? Are they that guy? Tyrese is,” said Calipari.

With the NBA heading into positionless basketball, Calipari believes Maxey’s switchability as a combo guard could work well to his advantage. He has the skills and speed to run the point and he has the moxie and court smarts to play off the ball.

Maxey proved early on that he has the chops of Calipari’s typical dynamic guard when he dropped 26 points in his college debut at the Madison Square Garden against Michigan State.

He went on to average 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game before the college season was cut short. He shot 42.7% from the field, 29.2% from three, and 83.3% from the stripes.

It wasn’t fancy particularly his shooting percentage from deep but the eye test suggests his impact on the game was way bigger than those numbers. Another reason for that, Calipari explained, is because Maxey played within the system just like the way Murray, and earlier, Devin Booker did that made them somewhat underrated ahead of the Draft. 

While Maxey is two inches shorter than those two former Kentucky guards, he possesses the same characteristics that make him such an intriguing prospect with a high ceiling.

Calipari pointed those out but also acknowledged the area where Maxey should focus on to reach his ceiling.

“Tyrese, physically, athletically and you know he’s a guy who’s blocking shots, rebounding the ball, has played dribble-drive and a downhill runner his whole life,” Calipari said. “He has to be more consistent with his shooting so did Jamal. But they played similar (roles) here.”

While it’s a pity that Maxey was robbed of the opportunity to show more of his wares on the big stage when the SEC and NCAA were scrapped, his body of work from high school, AAU to Team USA would be enough to tell you he’s got a chance to be special.

Before he went to Kentucky, he teamed up with Draft classmate Cole Anthony in the Team USA that obliterated the 2018 FIBA U18 Americas Championship.

Maxey averaged 8.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists against 0.5 turnovers, and 1.3 steals in 18 minutes. Anthony, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, averaged 14.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists against 2.7 turnovers, and 1.2 steals in 21 minutes.

During his short-lived stay at Kentucky, Maxey was on a tear late in the season, scoring 20 or more points five times before the stoppage.

“There are gonna be people who’ll pass on Tyrese that will regret liked how they passed on PJ (Washington) like how they passed on Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), Jamal (Murray) and we can keep going,” Calipari said. “He’s gonna be that (type of player).”

Mike Schmitz, ESPN’s resident NBA Draft Analyst, shared the same view with Calipari when he appeared on Sports Center with Scott Van Pelt last week.

“He didn’t have eye-popping numbers at Kentucky. He was under 50 percent from 2, under 30 percent from 3, but you have to play a role there. You have to fit in. Coach Cal does a tremendous job of forcing these guys to buy into a role. It’s about winning for the team and you sacrifice there and that’s exactly what Maxey did,” Schmitz said.

But the one thing that stuck out on Schmitz is that Maxey is a big-time scorer.

“This kid is a bucket. I saw him at the high school level, I saw him with USA Basketball, and I think he’s a perfect fit in today’s NBA. You can try to poke holes in him. You can try to say, ‘He’s a 6-3 combo guard. He’s a scorer or he’s out of control.’ But it’s worked pretty well for Tyler Herro, for Jamal Murray, for Devin Booker.”

That type of dynamic scoring has been sorely lacking on the Knicks backcourt for the longest time now.

Calipari didn’t go into specifics about the Knicks’ interest in Maxey. But a  highly-placed source in Kentucky said that Calipari has been constantly talking to the Knicks.

During the course of Calipari’s interview, the well-decorated coach revealed that his travel was limited by the pandemic but noted that his only out-of-town trip so far was to New Jersey.

Knicks’ team president Leon Rose is from Cherry Hills, New Jersey while his good friend and senior advisor William “World Wide Wes” Wesley hails from Camden, New Jersey.

Calipari has strong ties with the Knicks front office, and more so with his former top deputy and key recruiter Kenny Payne who is now one of Tom Thibodeau’s assistant coaches.

Maxey should be available by the time the Knicks would pick at No. 8 based on most Mock Drafts. But he’s also a trade-down candidate as reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post.

NBA Draft analyst Matt Babcock of Babcock Hoops, meanwhile, views Maxey in a different light.

“I see (Tyrese) Maxey being a solid complementary role player at the next level, whereas (Jamal) Murray is a dynamic player and one of the NBA’s rising young stars,” Babcock told Empire Sports Media. “Murray is just in an entirely different category altogether.”

Babcock Hoops has Maxey at No. 28 in their Mock Draft. It’s going to be a big surprise if Maxey gets picked inside the Top 10.

“I do not think the Knicks should consider Maxey with the 8th pick. It would be too high in the draft for him, in my opinion. I actually think Maxey would be a more appropriate option for the Knicks with the 27th pick, if he were there, of course,” Babcock said.

Maxey has shades of Murray in his game. But there are also glaring questions that he must address.

Only time will tell if Maxey can hold up to Murray’s comparisons.

But as Murray’s game became bigger and louder in the recent NBA Bubble, it’s hard to imagine that this new front office given their link to Kentucky and Calipari would pass up on the opportunity to get a player of the same caliber.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Don’t count out John Calipari to the New York Knicks

New York Knicks, John Calipari

The New York Knicks will be attached to a lot of big-name coaches this offseason. The names that appear most frequently in the rumor mill include Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy. One name to keep an eye on is Kentucky coach John Calipari.

Calipari’s name has floated around the Knicks’ coaching job before. Although he has previously denied a desire to leave Kentucky for the Knicks, things could get interesting this summer once the offseason is in full swing.

There are plenty of ties to the Knicks’ front office.

The most notable connection to Calipari the Knicks have is with their new president, Leon Rose. Upon Rose being hired by the Knicks, Calipari said:

 “Let me tell you about him: I’ve known him (Rose) for 25 years, dear friend. In a rough-and-tumble business — really, that business he was in was a sport, too, like body-to-body contact, it is — and I’ve never heard in 25 years anybody say a bad word about Leon Rose. Not one. In a rough-and-tumble sport that he’s in. He’s a gatherer. He’s a culture-builder.”

Calipari’s words are telling of the trust he has with Rose. It extends beyond Leon Rose too. One of Rose’s close partners William “Worldwide” Wesley, has helped recruit talent to Kentucky in the past. While Wesley isn’t an official Knicks staff member, he will still be intimately involved with the team.

Calipari has had tremendous success at Kentucky and has turned it into a factory for NBA talent. The league is filled with his former players.

The New York Knicks aren’t just in the midst of a probable coaching change, they’re in the process of a complete franchise overhaul. It trickles down from president to general manager, to player development and scouting, to coaching and philosophy.

Many would question why Calipari would leave his cushy job at Kentucky. Calipari may want one more shot at the NBA. One thing is for certain, he would bring a big culture change to the Knicks’ franchise. His connections with NBA talent and close relationship to the Knicks’ new front office will certainly make him a name to watch in the near future.