Nitrease Quickley has not had the time to visit the Garden to see her son, Immanuel, play.
Immanuel Quickley’s grandmother Ellen, aunt Demetria and sister Shiloah made the journey from Maryland on Feb. 27 for the Knicks-Pacers game.
The pandemic has been stressful on the schools. Nitrease is the assistant principal at Bel Air High School in Maryland, and spent 22 years as an English teacher. And the former Morgan State sharpshooter also moonlighted in another department.
“I was the free throw shooting coach,’’ Nitrease Quickley told The Post during the All-Star break.
Nitrease, 46, has taken pride in her son’s electric rookie year, in which he’s become a Knicks fan favorite as a late first-round pick. Nothing makes her happier than watching Quickley sink free throws – his strongest suit.
Quickley’s free-throw percentage is 94.2 percent, ranking him fourth in the NBA. He became the first player in 20 years to sink 94 of his first 100 free throws in his NBA career.
Quickley, 21, now stands at 98 makes in 104 attempts. The six misses always are hard on Nitrease, who catches all the games on NBA League Pass.
“It’s been so commonplace that when he misses a free throw, it takes myself a couple of minutes to get myself together,’’ Nitrease said. “He missed that? But the game is going on and I miss the next two minutes. But what I like about him is he doesn’t allow a missed shot to stop him from being the player he is. If he misses a free throw he gets upset a second, and he’ll come back on the line and here we go again.’’
Nitrease started her college career at Harford Community College, then transferred to the historically black college Morgan State. Known then as Nitrease Hamilton, she hit 72 percent of her free throws her junior year, topping out at 80 percent as a senior in 1996-97.
She can write a thesis on the subject.
“Free-throw shooting was my strength,’’ Nitrease said. “I had a special interest in him to become very good at whatever he did. Free-throw shooting fell under that umbrella. I taught him to take everything seriously, focus and always work to improve. There’s always growth for improvement. He was always willing to learn.’’
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about Quickley’s form. He dazzled at Kentucky, too, shooting 92.3 percent, third in the NCAA.
“It’s consistent,’’ Nitrease said. “He is locked in and has confidence in what has been taught. He believes it’s going in. A lot of time the mentality of an individual will actually determine the success in anything – free throws and life. He works with what he was taught.’’
Nitrease coached several of Quickley’s youth recreational league teams, and believes free-throw shooting is still a lost art.
“We went through the basics that I learned and passed them down to him,’’ Nitrease said. “The importance of having the 90-degree angle, making sure the ball is not flat in your hand. The importance of being parallel to the basket, importance of follow-through.’’
Nitrease often quotes scripture in interviews, while interspersing basketball vernacular. Her son, too, invokes God often during his Knicks Zoom interviews.
“The scripture says without a vision, people perish,’’ she said. “Know where you want the ball to go, aim it at that target, using the skills you were taught, aiming at the top of the ‘W.’ All that vision of seeing it before it’s done has produced a kid that could shoot some free throws. But I don’t take credit for the floater (his other signature shot).’’
Nitrease says many coaches don’t preach the W shape the rim makes under the net.
“He has put in the work, he has been dedicated, he has sacrificed,’’ Nitrease said. “People poured into him that he can achieve. He had goals written on his college dorm room. He has goals written in his apartment [in White Plains]. He writes the vision and makes it happen.’’
He’s had a strong support system from the women in his life. Before the pandemic, Immanuel’s mother, grandmother, aunt and sister were staples at Kentucky games. The four women traveled abroad to the Bahamas, Spain, Italy and Egypt to watch him play.
In his younger years, Nitrease had hoped Immanuel would attend her alma-mater, Morgan State, to study engineering.
“And then Coach K (Duke), Coach Cal (Kentucky), Coach Larannaga (Miami), Coach Few (Gonzaga) started calling,’’ Nitrease said.
“When he determined in his mind he could do it and achieve it, I had no choice but to jump on the bandwagon and ride it with him. He’s so determined and focused. He has the mentality of someone who’s been the league several years.”
Imannuel got away to a warm vacation spot during the All-Star break to gear up for the second half, which starts Thursday in Milwaukee.
Nitrease won’t commit to making a Garden trip amid the pandemic. She’s content with hearing the Garden cheers and chants through the TV and postgame interviews.
“He’s having a lot of fun,’’ Nitrease said. “He’s a humble kid but someone who is working hard and fans appreciate that. When you have someone willing to work hard for the team and teammates, you can’t help but gravitate to him.’’