When Kentucky opens NCAA Tournament play in Jacksonville against Abilene Christian Thursday, it is a given that Immanuel Quickley’s aunt, Demetria Caldwell, will be there supporting the Wildcats. Actually, no matter where the Cats would have been playing, she was going to come.
“I did not miss any UK home games, including Big Blue Madness and the Blue/White game,” said Caldwell. “I am going to be there no matter where UK plays here on out. I will just figure it out as I go. Even in high school there was never a question if I was going somewhere to watch him play. The only question was who was going with me and I could always find somebody.”
Caldwell was at the SEC Tournament in Nashville along with her mother, Quickley’s 10-yearold sister, Shiloh, and other family members. Nitrease Quickley, the UK freshman’s mother, is an educator in Baltimore where they live and didn’t make the SEC so she could hopefully attend NCAA Tournament games.
“She is very passionate about her job,” Caldwell said. “I am a business analyst, so I can work from anywhere. But his little sister has said she is not missing anything from here on out. She loves BBN and watching her brother play.”
Immanuel Quickley was glad to have his sister in Nashville watching him play.
“I hadn’t seen my sister in a couple of weeks, so it was great to see her. She is playing basketball, too, and doing really well. I am proud of her and love when she gets to see me play,” Immanuel Quickley said.
The Quickley family travels well. When he played in the Mc- Donald’s All-American Game in Atlanta last year, about 40 family members came on a bus from Baltimore to the game. When he played for Team USA in Egypt on a team coached by John Calipari, the freshman’s mother and grandmother were there. When he played for Team USA in Spain, his mother, grandmother and Caldwell all were there. His grandmother had to miss some games this year because she slipped on ice in Maryland and fractured her ankle.
“I have loved watching him play since he was 4 years old, and he was not supposed to be playing on a team then,” Caldwell laughed and said.
Turns out she was coaching a recreation league team for players ages 5-6 but was a player short at a game.
“Immanuel was always with me, so I said, ‘Here we go. Just play. Don’t tell your mom,’” Caldwell said. “He made every shot. I got to keep him (on the team) and he’s been playing ever since.”
“When I played for her, I just shot every single play every time I could. That was the best part about playing for her,” the Kentucky freshman said.
Caldwell has liked what she has seen from her nephew this year. He started seven games early in the season but has settled smoothly into his role coming off the bench and playing either guard position. He’s averaging 5.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 18.6 minutes per game. He’s one of the team’s top foul shooters at 82.8 percent.
“He has been kind of what I thought he would be this year,” Caldwell said. “He has been gradually excelling more and more. He loves being in the gym. He’s a gym rat and goes from his dorm room to the gym. Instead of a 30-minute trip like it was at home to get to the gym, he has a 30-step walk now. He’s a team player. He’s very content to determine what the team needs to win and then do that.”
Caldwell interacts with all Kentucky fans that she can. She says her experience with the fans has been “amazing” all season, including the SEC Tournament.
You can normally spot her in the crowd because she wears a pink UK baseball hat.
“I was in Kentucky and I needed a hat. We went to the store at the mall and I saw this pink hat,” Caldwell said. “My mom puts No. 5 on all my hats, but I wear that pink one every game to just throw something in there with that sea of blue. Plus, Immanuel also has a good idea where I am at then because he knows I am there.”
The UK freshman says he can “definitely hear her” and some- times can make eye contact with her.
“She loves me a lot. We have had a bond pretty much since I was born. She has been like a mother to me along with my mom. Great people, love them to death. She is not exactly my age but she gets the younger generation. We are kind of close and she kind of spoils me while my mom is more of the disciplinarian type, so it balances out,” Quickley said.
Caldwell won’t deny spoiling him — but in the right way.
“It’s not like spoiled milk because that is bad. It’s more like Christmas morning because you are overflowing with emotion and the expectations of doing well. As long as he remains a good kid and a humble kid, I’ll keep spoiling him, too.”
Former Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy is now a SEC Network analyst and has watched Kentucky play often this season. He believes freshman point guard Ashton Hagans can be a significant factor in NCAA Tournament play when UK faces teams it has not played before this season.
“He is very disruptive on defense,” Kennedy said after watch- ing UK again last week at the SEC Tournament. “I also think his offense has come a million miles. He knows now he can play in this league and he has some unique abilities. He’s a little loose sometimes with the ball but when he is creating chaos on defense and even on offense with his speed, you can live with that.”
Kennedy said before the season started he talked to the Kentucky coaching staff about Hagans and they were all “raving” about him and the ways he could change a game.
“I would compare him to (former UK player) Eric Bledsoe, who is maybe the best on-ball defender that Cal (John Calipari) has had at Kentucky,” Kennedy said. “Offensively, he’s really improved, too, he I think when teams have not see him he will get into the lane even more in postseason play.”
Kennedy says he never coached a player who can do the things Hagans can.
“I never had a player like him who had the ability to sit down (on defense) and stay in front of the ball any time he wants,” Kennedy said. “He may get a little exposed at times because he takes some chances, but he also really disrupt the other team’s offense a lot and that’s tough to prepare for.”
Florida assistant coach Darris Nichols says Hagans has learned to just make the needed plays on offense.
“On defense, he just defends. Nothing complicated. He just guards you,” Nichols said. “On offense, he runs the team and doesn’t take bad shots. He knows which shots are good shots for him and the team. He doesn’t try to do anything he can’t do and that might sound simple, but not every freshman can do that.”
Hagans says his goal in NCAA play will be to just “play my game” no matter what.
“I try to see how the other team is going to play me and then take advantage of that,” Hagans said. “I just want to attack. This whole year has been a great experience. This is my dream school. I came here to get to the NCAA, now I got to go fight every night because nobody wants to lose again. “
Because he verbally committed to Kentucky at the same time the Wildcats were beating Alabama in the SEC Tournament last week, 6-7 Indiana five-star Keion Brooks didn’t get quite as much attention as a top-ranked Kentucky commit normally does. However, he was a huge addition for Calipari after he had missed out on some top players in the 2019 class.
The 6-7 Brooks plays for unbeaten La Lumiere, the No. 1 team going into the GEICO Nationals. He participated in the USA Basketball junior national team minicamp and will play in the Jordan Brand Classic and Allen Iverson Roundball Classic. He is ranked as the No. 4 small forward and No. 13 overall prospect in the 2019 class according to 247Sports and bumped UK’s class of Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney and Dontaie Allen along with him to No. 2 nationally.
Brooks made an unofficial visit to UK in February to see the Cats beat Tennessee and that apparently gave coach John Calipari the needed edge over Indiana and Michigan State. Brooks made his decision public at St. Paul’s Lutheran School, his former middle school. Victoria Jacobsen of the The Journal Gazette reported many attending the announcement were wearing Indiana gear and there was a brief pause when he announced for UK before fans applauded his decision.
Recruiting writer Chris Fisher of 247Sports says all the “stars aligned” for Kentucky after Brooks’s unofficial visit in February combined with Indiana’s late-season ski.
“To get him on campus when Kentucky had is third largest crowd in Rupp Arena history and maybe the best atmosphere in year and beat the No. 1 team at the time was really huge,” Fisher said. “That put Kentucky in position to steal him late.
“Kentucky obviously has a great need for bodies in the front court. He’s versatile and can do a lot of things. He shot about 35 percent from 3 for most of the (Nike) EYBL. I think the improvement of PJ Washington this year was enticing for him because they are somewhat similar players. You can give it to him on the perimeter and he can make a play getting to the rim or make a jumper.
“The big difference in him and PJ is that PJ was much more developed physical and much more rugged coming out of high school. Adding strength will be a big priority for Brooks.”
Brooks told Jacobsen that Calipari “lets his players play” and he liked that.
“If you’re an athlete, and you can make plays, he’ll let you do that. He’s not going to hold you back and restrain you. … It’s how I play, and it fits my playing style the best,” Brooks told Jacobsen.
Kentucky beat North Carolina in December in Chicago and could meet the Tar Heels again in the NCAA Tournament if both teams advance to the Midwest Region final in Kansas City. North Carolina is the No. 1 seed in the region and UK the second seed.
Both teams have to win three games for that to happen and Calipari insisted he had not seen the Tar Heels play since December when the Cats beat them.
“I watch ‘The Last Frontier, Life Below Zero.’ Anybody watch those? The whole time I’m telling my wife I can do that. She’s like, ‘Psshh you can’t do that.’ Building Off The Grid. Anybody watch that? I’m giving you stuff to help your culture.
“No, I didn’t watch the Top Chef, even that episode (he was in when the show was filmed in Lexington) I haven’t. I don’t have time for that. So, I’m not watching other teams. I get to watch my own team and I get to watch the opponents we’re playing.”
Obviously, Calipari was not wanting to talk about the Tar Heels knowing a rematch is a long way off with the upsets that occur in March Madness.
“I’d like to have a life so I may turn on a game for five minutes and I watch it. I think I watched the Duke versus North Carolina game for about three minutes in the first half,” he said. “North Carolina, I think I was like wow and then they told me what the score was, and I said how in the world did that happen.
“North Carolina’s playing good. The point guard’s playing good. They’re good. I’m not worried about them, we have to get through Abilene Christian (on Thursday). That’s all I’m worried about right now.”
Quote of the Week: “That’s just him being him at times during games. He is crazy but in a good way. I guess it is just basketball that gets him that way in a whole different level, but he is definitely crazy,” freshman guard Ashton Hagans on UK coach John Calipari.
Quote of the Week 2: “The atmosphere was really unbelievable obviously. I couldn’t believe what BBN (Big Blue Nation) fans were like. They were just having fun and it helped make a long season a lot of fun here toward the end for us, too,” UK freshman guard Immanuel Quickley on the UK fans at the SEC Tournament.