Associate Head Coach Kenny Payne and players Immanuel Quickley and Nick Richards spoke to the media before Kentucky faces off against UNC Greensboro. They talked about defense, shooting and improving confidence.

Kenny Payne

Immanuel Quickley 

Nick Richards

Kenny Payne transcript from UK Athletics

Associate Head Coach Kenny Payne

On Nick Richards in the regular season vs. how he performed in the Bahamas …

“If we could figure that out. First of all I think Nick showed what he is capable of in the Bahamas. Same player, Different mindset. And so, what we have to do is – what Nick has to do is figure it out in his mind. We haven’t given up on Nick, but we’re not going to hand it to him. One of the things that Cal has done with all of these kids is he’s put it on them to figure it out. We’ve tried multiple things – starting him hoping that turns a light on. But at the end of the day Nick has to take ownership of how he plays, how he approaches the game. I had a conversation with him a couple of days ago. I said, ‘Can you soot the ball?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can you shoot right-hand, left-hand jump hooks?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can you drop step? Can you block shots? Can you sprint the floor? Are you in shape? I’ve done my part. The rest is on you.’ And that’s just what it is. And he will figure it out. And when he does we’re going to be a much better team because of him. We’re just not going to hand it to him.”

On the balance of helping Richards find his confidence …

“I think Coach Cal has reached that point. The balance is a thin line. A lot of people look at – and I’ll say this a different way of saying it – it’s hard for people to evaluate non-confident athletes. It’s easy for an evaluation to just say, ‘Well, he doesn’t quite have it.’ Oh, he has it. You just haven’t seen him at his best and how he feels is a part of who he is as a player. Nick is going to be fine. I’m not worried about it. He just has to digest it, grow up, fight for it and it’s just not going to be handed to him. He started just about every game last year. Coach is saying, ‘It’s time for you to be a man. Man up.’ ”

On if EJ Montgomery is already starting to reach his potential or if he still has more to give …

“I would say with EJ Montgomery is light years. He’s very talented. To me, just personally working with him and being around him and talking to him every day, a lot of this is just his maturation and strength. (He’s) never had to go this hard. The pace of the game is different than high school. It’s faster. We talk a lot about being versatile players. Well, at times that means we’re switching and you’ve got to guard a point guard. At the end of the day EJ Montgomery has shown, ‘I have a bunch of talent. I’m willing to work. I’m willing to grow and the test for him is not today or tomorrow.’ We need to see EJ Montgomery at the end of February, March and go on a stretch and he puts us on his back some. That’s just the reality of it. That’s our goal. That was our goal when we recruited him. We’re not judging you by November and December. How good can you be after six, five months to this? That’s what we’re looking for.”

On what the best version of Montgomery looks like …

“To me I think it’ll be – it’s unique because 6-10, 6-11. Can shoot jump shots, unbelievable feel for the game, can really pass the ball. We’ve seen the shot blocking. We’ve seen the offensive rebounding. We’ve got to get him to sprint the floor more. In the end, I think he’s one of those guys that – I hate to say it because this guy was an unbelievable player – he reminds me a lot of Sam Perkins. Can shoot it, can rebound it, can pass it, fluid, real smooth with it. That’s how I see it. But, we have to get him to that point of playing hard every possession, getting stronger, getting his legs stronger, getting his hips stronger. Once that happens, the sky is the limit.”

On if Montgomery knows who Sam Perkins is …

“No. Not at all [Laughter].”

On Immanuel Quickley’s progression …

“I think Immanuel Quickley has progressed a lot. Would like for him to relax and just play and play with confidence. As I said, I want to see him play with confidence when it’s not structured. You have to pass the ball to the right. You have to cut this way. Playing with confidence when it’s random, when it’s your feel, when it’s just you playing basketball. When he gets comfortable doing that we’re going to see a different Immanuel Quickley.”

On the difference having confidence in playing free can have on his game …

“It’s important because, you know, as coaches, as a program, as a style of play, you don’t want to be predicable. As a coach you don’t want to be predictable. ‘They’re going to throw the ball here and he’s going to cut here.’ You want it to be as random and as instinctive as possible because instinctive is unpredictable. You can’t say that he’s going to go left or right or going to shoot it or drive it. He can feel the game and when he attacks it the way off of what he feels. That’s the best way that I can describe it.”

On UNC Greensboro and the challenges the Spartans present …

“To be honest with you, I believe just from watching the games that I watched, we’re playing an NCAA team. We’re playing a tournament team that are very capable of beating us. We will have to play with the same intensity that we played this last game with and be energetic and athletic and focused on defense for long stretches because they don’t make many mistakes. They are really good at shooting the ball. They’re really good at passing the ball. And a true test of being an excellent offensive team is a good passing team. They are a good passing team. They’re guard play is really good. Again, we’re playing an NCAA Tournament team.” 

On if Montgomery is the key to this team being great …

“I wouldn’t put it all on him. I still believe Nick Richards is a big piece to this puzzle. Contrary to most people, I believe PJ Washington is a dominant basketball player who is super talented that can put this team on his back. And for whatever reason there’s inconsistencies there. He has to handle that. He has to control that. He controls his own destiny. Not us. We want him to play like those three games when he was dominant every game. That’s his test.”

On if Washington is ahead most other college players in all facets of the game …

“I think he understands it more. I think he’s capable of being our best defender or one of our best defenders. I really think you know the game that he got all of the rebounds right after Nick had the 19 rebound game, during that game he was telling Nick, ‘I’m going to get your numbers. I’m beating 20 rebounds or 19.’ Whatever that number was. So, probably, yes. I think he’s the type of player that when he’s at his best our team is like really good. Personally, not coaching, staff-wise, personally, I think when we play great or we lose, I hate to say it to you guys in the media, I look at him. When our team energy isn’t right, I look at him. When our rebounding ain’t great, I look at him. When we’re not playing great offensively or defensively, I look at him. When the game is tight, what has PJ Washington done? Is he in foul trouble? Is he playing with energy? That’s just me.”

On Camp Cal and whether one more year of that will help Richards …

“I think so. Again, it’s hard to say that because who knows how he processes the game. Who knows when it clicks. But, we know that it is going to click. But, when does it click? I’d like to have a crystal ball and say on this day it’s going to click. But we just don’t.” 

On what he’s hearing about other people saying about Washington …

“Well, I think there’s a, ‘He’s a good, solid college player and that’s good enough.’ That’s not good enough. Not for this program. Not for who and what his talent is. I would challenge PJ Washington to max out, to give us 110 percent not just 100. It’s easy for PJ to give 85, 80 percent and be a good player. He will not reach what he’s trying to attain by giving 85 percent. He has to give 110 percent, and then if he does, again, I don’t like to put it on one player, but this team becomes dominant.”

On UNC Greensboro’s James Dickey …

“(I) talked to somebody today that knows the kid well, talked about how he blocks everything. It’s going to be a challenge because we predicate our offense on attacking. Well, we’re going to have to attack him and try to get him in foul trouble and go right at him. We’re not going to try to avoid him and not take it to him because he’s a shot blocker. We have to go at him.”

On the shooting ability of this group of big men for UK and if that was developed by design …

“Good question. Look, a basketball player has to be complete, has to be versatile. Shooting is a part of that. More important than the shooting, can you guard multiple positions? Can you rebound the ball above the rim? Can you face up from 15 feet and beat somebody off the dribble? Can you block shots? To me that’s more important than shooting the basketball. For our team, for our goals of what we’re trying to accomplish – I know there are teams out there that shoot a million 3s; that’s not how we see us winning a championship. We’re winning a championship because we’re going to defend and we’re going to rebound and our bigs are going to block shots. Their impact on the game, the four of them, is going to be superior to the game and we’re going to win based off what they do.”

Player quotes from UK Athletics

Kentucky Players

#4, Nick Richards, Fr., F

On how the season is going …

“It’s been good so far. We’ve been getting a lot of wins, improving every game. Last game was good. We won by 40, so I’d say that’s a big improvement for us.”

On how John Calipari told him to approach the last game …

“Just said go out there and play like a regular game. That’s just the mental apporoach I took towards (it). He didn’t really talk about how he was going to play guys in the last game, so it was kind of stay positive and just get ready when your time comes.”

On how he feels that he is playing …

“The last game, I played pretty good coming off the bench. The past couple of other games, it wasn’t really that great. You’ve just got to keep moving forward from bad games and look to the future.”

On Coach Cal saying he is the fourth of the four big men …

“It’s definitely motivation for me. For him to say that as a coach, I think he’s just trying to push me towards the right direction, just to hopefully boost my confidence and just try to let me play better.”

On his level of confidence right now …

“I’m always confident. I’m more confident in myself than I’ve ever been, even though I’m not starting or I didn’t get as many minutes as I should have gotten the last game. I’m always going to be confident in myself. Always going to have a positive vibe.”

On bad habits he’s having trouble breaking …

“I would say Coach Cal’s one pet peeve is to grab rebounds with two hands. I think that’s one thing I’m trying to break out of that I’m having a hard time doing.”

On how much his shot-blocking can help this team …

“It’s a game-changer for people. Last game, they were tentative to go to the rim because I was down there just waiting for them to lay the ball up. Then you’ve got EJ (Montgomery) and PJ (Washington) down there as well. So, they kind of second-guessed themselves on whether they should go down there or not.”

On what he will tell the freshmen about the upcoming practice grind in December …

“I will just tell them, keep your body ready. It’s going to be a struggle the first couple of days. You’re going to do hours and hours of practice. You’ve just got to do hours of recovery after.”

#5, Immanuel Quickley, Fr., G

On the biggest surprise to him about college basketball …

“It’s been great so far competing with my brothers, but it’s actually a grind day to day. I didn’t know it was going to be this hard. It’s actually been way harder than I thought it was going to be, on and off the floor, but it’s been great and we’re just getting after it and competing.”

On whether there has been a moment when that hit him …

“The games are a lot more mental than high school. Coming out and competing every single play, every possession matters. In high school, you can take plays off, but in college you can’t do that.”

On being considered elite defensively in high school …

“High school was a lot more you’re more athletic than everybody. College is beating people to spots, being two, three, four steps ahead. It’s definitely different from high school.”

On how they got better defensively against Monmouth …

“I think competing the whole possession. Sometimes in the beginning of the season we would stop, whether it was the young guys or the veteran guys. Playing the whole possession for the 30 seconds of the shot clock is really getting better for us, I think.”

On Coach Cal calling three stops in a row a kill …

“I think it just helps us to lock in. When we got two stops in a row, everybody – especially everybody on the floor – is saying, ‘Get this last stop. Let’s get this kill.’ Getting three stops in a row can translate to momentum on offense and ultimately what gives you runs and that’s how you win games.”

On his shooting struggles and having confidence in his shot …

“I believe in my craft and me putting in all the hours, so I know eventually shots are going to start falling. Just gotta stay locked in on all the other stuff I can control: playing hard on defense, talking and keeping all the guys engaged and stuff like that.”

On needing to be ready to shoot before getting the ball …

“That’s definitely been something for me. Even watching film with some of the coaches, just being ready to shoot before the ball comes. It’s a shorter amount of time before you catch the ball and get the shot off. I think that’s definitely something else that I have to improve on.”

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