It seems awhile ago – except to Immanuel Quickley. In last year’s preseason opener vs. Detroit last December, Quickley was a DNP-Coaches Decision.
Tom Thibodeau was unsure of the rookie combo guard from Kentucky — selected with the 25th pick.
“Yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday,’’ Quickley said. “Preseason game, I didn’t get in. As soon as the game was over, I went to go watch the film.
“So nothing has changed for me. When I didn’t play as much my freshman year at Kentucky, I didn’t have a bad attitude. You cheer on your teammates.’’
Quickley played just the final eight minutes in the second preseason game, also against Detroit, and started to show his flair as an outside shooter and animated performer.
“It’s more about building daily habits, coming in and working hard and trying to get better each day like coach Thibs preaches,’’ Quickley said. “You eventually continue to get better and continue to climb.’’
And so he has. Quickley went on to craft a first season in which he was named Second-Team All-Rookie.
As the Knicks face the Pacers in the preseason opener Tuesday at the Garden, Quickley is a key part of Thibodeau’s rotation as he looks to avoid any sophomore jinx.
The 22-year-old said he’s been mostly been paired in training camp scrimmages with point guard Derrick Rose in the backcourt – a combo that worked smoothly last season.
That he fell to No. 25 on draft night is still is a feather in team president Leon Rose’s cap.
“I feel like I’m a good athlete, not a great athlete,’’ Quickley said. “I’m strong, but not as strong as most players, so I have to work hard. I have to be the hardest worker on whatever team I’m on, whether it’s been high school, college, NBA. So, that’s always kind of who I’ve been is just try to be the hardest worker’’
That is what Thibodeau loves about Quickley and is able to coach him harder than some others – even if he’s noticed Quickley sometimes smirking.
“He has a grin,’’ Thibodeau said. “But he’s great to be around. You can coach him hard. He wants to win. The team is first. He’s an upbeat guy. Very positive. He wants to get things right.’’
Smiling when he’s getting chewed out by the coach is not a negative reaction, Quickley said.
“I love it. I love it,’’ Quickley said. “I’ve had tough coaches all my life. My high school coach was tough on me. Everybody knows Coach Cal is tough on his players. And coach Thibs is tough on his players. And I don’t smile to be disrespectful. I smile because I really love when somebody gets on me, because it’s a challenge, almost. I respect coach Thibs and I appreciate him for that.’’
One goal this season for Quickley is to become more of a point guard. He played in five of the six Summer League games in August as a starting point guard and averaged 33.5 minutes.
Thibodeau said he’s “very comfortable” with Quickley running the point and wants him and Rose to alternate bringing the ball up court. The coach also sees a Quickley-Alec Burks pairing where the duo can be interchangeable.
While he got better each game in running the offense and averaged 7.8 assists and 20.2 points, his 3-point shot was wayward in that role. Quickley finished shooting 12 of 50 from 3-point range at Summer League.
“I think it was more that the ball just didn’t go in,’’ said Quickley, who shot 38.9 percent from 3 as a rookie.
“That’s really it. Sometimes you shoot it great. And it was a small sample size, so who knows what would’ve happened if we played 77 more games. I could’ve shot 55 percent from 3.’’
The whole experience as the starting point guard was huge for Quickley’s growth.
“I worked on a lot of things — being a leader, trying to help younger guys, because eventually I wanna get to that level where I’m trying to lead a team, being an extension of the coach on the floor,’’ Quickley said. “Tried to do other things, bring other things to the table other than just scoring.
“It was a great experience. I got to play like 20 minutes a game in my rookie year. To be able to play like 40 minutes, 37 minutes, in Summer League, that was really big for me.’’