It’s no surprise to Immanuel Quickley that on the night of the 2020 NBA Draft, Knicks senior vice president William Wesley relentlessly lobbied for his selection at 25.
After all, Quickley was the Kentucky dormitory mate of Wesley’s son in his two years at Kentucky.
“His son was basically, not my roommate, he was kind of across the hallway from me both years I stayed at Kentucky, so I know him pretty well,’’ Quickley said before the Knicks faced the Bucks Thursday to start their post-All-Star Break schedule.
“Obviously he has a lot of connections to Kentucky, knowing coach Kenny Payne and all of that. So yeah, I did see that story about him being a big advocate in trying to get me. I’m glad they picked me and I thank God that this is the team that I’m on and I’m glad to be a Knick.’’
Quickley could be in the Rookie of the Year conversation if he progresses further in the second half. The Post previously reported Knicks GM Scott Perry didn’t have Quickley as high as 25 on his board, and former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne lobbied for Quickley with Wesley, too, having longstanding Kentucky connections.
John Calipari has called Wesley “a goodwill ambassador to our program’’ and The Post previously reported Wesley pushed for the Knicks to hire Payne for Tom Thibodeau’s staff.
In a blockbuster story in Tuesday’s Post written by Yaron Weitzman, it was revealed that Wesley animatedly pushed for the pick in the war room that night, and was upset when the Knicks decided to trade down from 23 to 25, feeling they could lose him. Quickley was projected as a second-rounder in most mock drafts.
According to Weitzman’s piece, Wesley stated, “We need Quickley, get Quickley,” over and over. The story continues to underscore the immense power Wesley has gained, even though Perry was supposed to run the draft.
In an interview with The Post during the All-Star Break, Quickley’s mother, Nitrease, said she remembered that at the beginning of Quickley’s freshman year in 2018, she saw her son in the top 5 in early mocks. Quickley had a subpar freshman year and decided to stay another season at Kentucky, where he won SEC Player of the Year.
“You see all these projections and everyone has the ideas,’’ Nitrease said. “But really they don’t have the final say. Their faith and work ethic has the final say. I’ve learned in my years as a basketball mom, mock drafts mean absolutely nothing. But they can use it as motivation.’’
And so Quickley has, proving Payne and Wesley right as arguably the top outside shooter in the draft. He’s averaging 12.2 points and shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range. His 23.9 points per 36 minutes tops among rookies. He’s also a remarkable 94.2 percent from the free-throw line, with a knack of drawing fouls with clever fakes.
He hasn’t started yet, but with Derrick Rose out indefinitely with COVID-19 issues, Quickley has recently formed a strong backcourt tandem with Frank Ntilikina, who was rescued from the scrap heap. Quickley has played well alongside Austin Rivers and Rose at varying points this season.
“He’s great,’’ Quickley said of Ntilikina. “One of the best teammates I think I’ve had since I’ve been here. He’s selfless. Wants the best for the team, team-first. Works extremely hard. He’s a great teammate and he’s really skilled. He can defend, play hard, does a little bit of everything. So it’s great to have somebody like that that’s really developed on and off the court.’’
The Rising Stars Challenge wasn’t played during All-Star Sunday but an honorary roster was compiled. Quickley surprisingly didn’t make the cut, but it was more because of format. The World Team needed to be filled with rookies, and several international players selected pale in comparison to Quickley, such as Facundo Campazzo and Theo Maledon.
“Just use it as a motivating factor,’’ Quickley said.
“I was just talking to KP (Payne) just now, in shootaround, that I needed to make my second-half-of-the-year goals. But the first half of the year went alright. Got some, didn’t get some others. But it’s all good. I feel like individually I played OK. I feel like I could have played a lot better. And I’m just going to keep striving to get better each day.’’
Quickley also got a kick out of a recent story on his mother, who starred at Morgan State as a free-throw extraordinaire. Nitrease said she’s been his free-throw shooting coach across the years.
“She takes credit but she can’t shoot like me,’’ Quickley said. “My mom helped me a lot but when you take my free throws and her free throws, I think I’m on another level.’’