LEXINGTON, Ky. – Although Kentucky men’s basketball’s “Graduation Night” – as dubbed by head coach John Calipari – came months later than normal, three more Wildcats heard their names called in the NBA Draft on Wednesday night.
Tyrese Maxey (No. 21, Philadelphia 76ers), Immanuel Quickley (No. 25, Oklahoma City Thunder) and Nick Richards (No. 42, New Orleans Pelicans) were selected during the 2020 NBA Draft, which was done virtually this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 11 seasons with Calipari at the helm, Kentucky has churned out three No. 1 selections, 31 first-rounders, 21 lottery picks and 41 total players in the NBA Draft. The 41 draft picks are 14 more than the next closest school (Duke). With two first-round picks, Kentucky has more first-round selections (41) than any other school in the NBA lottery era (since 1985).
“It’s graduation night. Three guys drafted,” Calipari said. “Ashton (Hagans) and EJ (Montgomery) and Nate (Sestina) are going to have an opportunity with different teams. Maybe two-way contracts. Maybe free agency. But they’re going to have a chance. They’re having their own path.
“You have Tyrese, Philadelphia. You have Immanuel, Knicks. You have big Nick, Charlotte. They’re on a different path. But you know what? At the end of the day, fight for what you want. Take what you want and I’m proud of all of them.”
Maxey was the first Wildcat off the board and the first UK player selected by Philadelphia since Mike Flynn in 1975.
“I just want to show them that I can compete and I know what I can do,” Maxey said during the telecast. “I trust myself. I put the work in and I’m just so excited. I’m so thankful. I learned so much from (Rajon) Rondo (while he trained in LA). He took the time out of his day every morning to teach me the tricks of the trade and I just want to say thank you so much. I thank Philadelphia for this opportunity, and I promise that it won’t be a regret.”
Quickley’s rights are proposed in a trade to the New York Knicks where former UK associated head coach Kenny Payne is now an assistant and former UK players Kevin Knox and Julius Randle are on the roster. Richards’ rights are being proposed in a trade to Charlotte. He would join former Wildcats Malik Monk and PJ Washington with the Hornets.
On being drafted, Quickley said: “For me it was more just staying true to who I am, which is keeping God first, and my grind. (Coach Cal) said I was one of the hardest-working players he’s ever had. And then also just being a great person off the floor. Those three things have really propelled me and gave me confidence on and off the floor. I feel like that was how I was able to lead and be a leader on last year’s team. Just putting the work in and my teammates and coaches believed in me.”
The Wildcats have had more top-10 picks, more lottery selections and more first-round picks in the Calipari era than any other team in the country. UK has had multiple first-round selections in every draft during Calipari’s tenure.
Kentucky has had 132 players drafted 134 times in its illustrious history with 55 players selected in the opening round.
It is the 11th consecutive NBA Draft that Kentucky was represented by multiple players in the first round of the draft. UK is the only program since the draft went to two rounds in 1989 to have multiple players selected in the first round in 11 straight years. Calipari is the only coach to have multiple players selected in 13 consecutive NBA Drafts, dating back to his time at Memphis. This marked the first time the Wildcats did not have a lottery pick in the Calipari era. The Wildcats previously had at least one lottery pick in 10 straight drafts and multiple lottery selections seven times. Calipari’s streak of first-round picks dated back 12 seasons to his time at Memphis.
The Wildcats’ three total picks tied Arizona and Duke for the most selections in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Of the 28 players at UK in the Calipari era who have declared for the NBA Draft after their freshman seasons, 26 have been first-round draft picks after Maxey’s selections. All previous players (not including Maxey) have played in an NBA game.
Sophomores Ashton Hagans and EJ Montgomery and graduate transfer Nate Sestina went undrafted. They all are likely to have an opportunity to sign a free-agent deal.
Maxey is the fifth Wildcat all time to be selected by the Sixers and the first since Mike Flynn in 1975. Maxey was one of the top freshmen in the country in 2019-20 and averaged 14.0 points per game for the Southeastern Conference champions. In addition to his 14.0 points per game, Maxey averaged 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He shot 42.7% from the floor and made 33 3-pointers in 2019-20.
Maxey was stellar for the Wildcats all season long, but he came up particularly big in UK’s biggest games.
Highlighted by a career-high 27-point performance in the victory over No. 3/4 Louisville, Maxey averaged a team-high 19.0 points to go along with 5.3 rebounds in UK’s six games vs. Associated Press Top 25 foes. In true road games, Maxey ranked second on the team with an average of 14.4 points. He also added 4.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 blocks per game in hostile territory.
Maxey’s 26 points in the 1-2 matchup vs. Michigan State topped Terrence Jones’ 25 points against East Tennessee State in 2010 for the most points by a freshman in his debut as a Wildcat. In that game, Maxey’s first points didn’t come until just after the midway point of the first half, but he scored seven straight points to help Kentucky earn an 11-point halftime lead. From the 10:03 mark of the second half until a pair of Ashton Hagans’ free throws with 37 seconds to play, Maxey scored or assisted on 14 straight UK points to hold off the Michigan State rally, including the game-clinching shot with just over a minute to play from well behind the 3-point line.
Against Louisville, he made a career-high nine field goals (on 14 shots), sunk a career-best four 3-pointers and tied a career high with seven rebounds. His 27 points were the most by a UK freshman vs. Louisville and the most by a Wildcat in the rivalry since Jodie Meeks score 28 on Jan. 4, 2009.
Highlighted by six 20-point performances, Maxey scored in double figures in 22 games. The league’s coaches picked him for the All-SEC Second Team and the SEC All-Freshman Team. He was also a three-time SEC Freshman of the Week selection and both the NCAA March Madness National Player of the Week and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Wayman Tisdale National Freshman following the win over Louisville.
The Texas native played particularly well down the stretch. He averaged 15.5 points per game on 42.9% shooting over the final 12 games, scoring in double figures in 10 of those. Included in that stretch, Maxey had 10 second-half points to lead a double-digit comeback effort at home against Vanderbilt, led the charge in another double-digit deficit against the Commodores on the road on Feb. 11 with 25 points, and posted 17 points vs. 15th-ranked Auburn to help the Wildcats to the SEC regular-season title.
The 2020 SEC Player of the Year was picked by the Thunder becoming the sixth player selected by OKC and first since Dakari Johnson in 2015, although his rights are being proposed in a trade to the New York Knicks. Quickley led the Wildcats with 16.1 points per game and ended the season on a 20-game double-figure scoring streak. Quickley was named an All-American by several outlets after a breakout 2019-20 campaign. The Athletic, CBS Sports and Bleacher Report all tabbed the sophomore guard with All-America Third Team distinction.
Quickley was one of the key pieces behind Kentucky’s 25-6 season that included a 9-3 record vs. NCAA quadrant one teams and an SEC regular-season championship.
Quickley’s season will go down as one of the greatest development stories of the Calipari era. The Maryland native played in all 37 games during the 2019 Elite Eight season, but he did so primarily from a reserve role. After starting seven of the first eight games of the season, Quickley came off the bench the rest of the season and averaged 5.2 points per game with 30 3-pointers in 18.5 minutes per game.
One of four key returners on the 2019-20 squad, Quickley was expected to play a much larger role this season, but no one predicted he would be the SEC Player of the Year. He wasn’t picked for any preseason all-conference teams or player of the year watch lists.
Quickley’s steady approach and belief in what coaches call “the process” proved everybody wrong. He scored in double figures in 26 of the 30 games he played in and topped the 20-point plateau in eight. The 6-foot-3 guard made a team-high 62 3-pointers — including making a 3 in 28 games and 11 straight to end the season — and shot a team-high 42.8% from behind the arc after a slow start.
The Maryland native’s 20-game double-figure scoring streak to end the season is the best run since Malik Monk scored in double figures in 30 straight games during the 2016-17 season. During the 20-game stretch, Quickley scored 20 or more points eight times and made three or more 3-pointers seven times, including a career-high eight at Texas A&M.
Quickley won SEC Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks in late February/early March, becoming the first Wildcat in school history to win SEC Player of the Week consecutively (dating back to the 1984-85 season). He won three times total this season.
During the 20-game stretch of scoring in double figures, Quickley averaged 18.6 points to go along with 4.6 rebounds per game and 50 3-pointers while shooting 47.2% from long range. He poured in a career-high 30 points at Texas A&M and sunk a career-best eight 3-pointers to become the first UK player with 30 or more points since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 30 on Jan. 30, 2018, vs. Vanderbilt. He’s also the first player with back-to-back 25-plus-point games since Monk from Feb. 25-28, 2017. The eight 3s tied Monk, Jamal Murray and Eric Bledsoe for the most 3-pointers in a game during the Calipari era.
What those stats don’t fully reveal is just how clutch Quickley was. He became Kentucky’s go-to scorer late in games, breaking the will of more than a handful of opponents with daggers from beyond the arc and clutch free throws.
Two of the best examples were at LSU and at home vs. Florida. He scored 14 of his team-high 21 points in the second half in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which included making all five field-goal attempts and dishing a pair of assists. At home vs. Florida, he scored 22 points in the second half, including 20 of Kentucky’s 28 points when the Wildcats fell behind 40-33. He finished with a game-high 26 points vs. the Gators.
Over the course of UK’s eight-game winning streak in February, in the second half alone, Quickley averaged 14.9 points, shot 56.4% from the field, 57.7% from 3-point range and 93.3% from the charity stripe.
Quickley made 92.3% at the free-throw line, which ranks second in school history, just behind Tyler Herro’s school record set in 2018-19 of 93.5%. That mark ranked first in the SEC and third in the nation. He enjoyed four different stretches of 17 or more consecutive makes (with a high of 24 straight and was 30 of 31 at the free-throw line this season when it was a two-possession game at any point with 3:00 or less to go or the game is in overtime.
Mirroring his even-keel approach, Quickley was Kentucky’s most consistent performer in hostile territory. He averaged a team-best 19.1 points in addition to 4.8 rebounds and 29 3-pointers (on 59.2% shooting) in UK’s 10 true road games.
Richards’ selection to the New Orleans Pelicans was the first for a UK player since Nerlens Noel in 2013, although a trade is being proposed for his rights to go to Charlotte. He is the fifth UK player to earn selection by the Pelicans – all of them coming under Calipari. Richards’ improvement in 2019-20 was one of the best stories of the college basketball season and reinforced head coach Calipari’s pitch that every player is on his own timetable.
Richards enjoyed the most productive season of his career. After averaging 4.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks over 13.4 minutes a game in the first two seasons of his career, Richards turned into an All-Southeastern Conference First Team player in 2019-20.
The junior led the team in rebounding (7.8 per game), blocks (2.1 per game) and double-doubles (10) to go along with a conference-high .644 field-goal percentage and 14.0 points per game. His field-goal percentage ranked fourth in the nation.
Richards was one of four players in the country to average at least 13.5 points per game, at least 7.5 rebounds and at least 2.0 blocks while shooting at least 60.0% from the floor. He was in the 98th percentile of offensive efficiency in the Synergy national rankings and in the 88th percentile on defense.
The forward from Jamaica was an All-SEC First Team selection by the league’s coaches, was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-District 20 First Team, won two national player of the week honors in 2019-20 and was a two-time SEC Player of the Week honoree.
Richards played well early in the season, but his meteoric rise began vs. Louisville and continued into the conference season. Against the Cardinals’ frontline, one of the best in the country, Richards delivered. The 6-foot-11 big man secured a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but it was how he did it that impressed the most.
Playing the final 8:53 of regulation and all five minutes of overtime with four fouls, Richards took two momentum-changing charges and scored seven straight points in overtime with the game on the line. With Louisville leading 68-65 with 2:21 to go in overtime, Richards snared an offensive rebound (one of six in the game) and converted the traditional three-point play to even the score once again. His free throws with 27 seconds remaining gave the Wildcats a 72-70 lead they would not relinquish. Richards also drew a game-high 11 fouls to get Kentucky to the free-throw line, a key difference in the outcome. His defense was a difference maker.
The double-double was Richards’ first against a ranked opponent in his three seasons. In 20 games prior vs. ranked foes, Richards averaged 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He had never recorded double-digit scoring or rebounding numbers against a ranked opponent. Richards did it again vs. nationally ranked Texas Tech with a monster 25-point, 14-rebound, four-block performance.
In the game in Lubbock, Texas, Richards became just the second Wildcat in the Calipari era to post at least 25 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in a game. National Player of the Year Anthony Davis did it in 2012.
Richards was dominant from start to finish vs. the Red Raiders. After setting the tone early in the game with a thunderous dunk and a handful of intimidating swats, he took over in overtime with seven points, including the game-winning free throws with 10 seconds left and nearly 15,000 hostile fans screaming at him to miss.
Another noteworthy performance includes a 27-point, 11-rebound game vs. Mississippi State, featuring 25 points in the second half.
Richards also led the Wildcats with 66 blocks, including 18 games with multiple rejections. He blocked seven shots vs. Lamar, the first Wildcat with seven or more swats since Karl-Anthony Towns in 2014-15 and he blocked six at LSU.
As Richards went in 2019-20, so did UK. Kentucky was 22-2 when he scored in double figures, 10-0 when he grabbed double-digit rebounds and 7-1 when he blocked at least four shots.
Richards in three seasons is now third all-time in program history with a career field-goal percentage of .628 with a minimum of 50 attempts, he ranks 10th all-time with 146 career swats and his 528 rebounds ranks 46th.
Kentucky has had 132 guys drafted 134 times (Johnny Cox ’58 and Roger Newman ’60 both drafted in Jr. eligible draft, but returned for senior year and were drafted again)
UK has had 55 players selected in the opening round (31 have come in the last 11 years) of the draft
Kentucky has had 41 players selected in the draft over the last 11 years, 14 more than the next closest school (Duke)
UK has had 13 players selected in the top 10, 21 in the top 15 and 31 in the first round of the draft in the last 11 years
Calipari has had two or more players selected in 13 consecutive NBA drafts dating back to 2008 with Memphis
UK has had multiple first-round picks in every year of the Coach Cal era (since 2010)
In 28 seasons as a head coach, Calipari has coached 52 NBA Draft picks, including 37 first-round selections with 17 of those going in the top 10. He has had 41 selected in the last 11 years as UK’s head coach, including 31 coming in the opening round
Since the draft moved to two rounds in 1989, the Wildcats lead all schools with 42 first-round picks. Thirty-one of those selections have come in the last 11 years under Calipari
Of the 64 players who have finished their college careers at UK under Calipari, 41 have been selected in the NBA Draft, a 64.1-percent success rate. Another five of those made the NBA, and the majority of the rest were walk-ons
Of the 28 players at Kentucky who have declared for the NBA Draft after their freshman seasons, 26 have been first-round picks. All previous players (not including Maxey) have played a game in the NBA. Calipari is 30 for 32 in that regard when including his players from Memphis