Jayhawks' constant confidence in Quentin Grimes set freshman up for standout performance
Leading up to the Kansas basketball team’s first of back-to-back road trips south to the Sooner State, both head coach Bill Self and his players spoke of the Jayhawks playing with freer minds at this late stage of the season than they had during some of the most challenging stretches of the schedule.
No one on the roster embodied that attitude in Stillwater, Okla., more than Quentin Grimes.
Given the highs and lows of his freshman season at KU, some might wonder from game to game just what Grimes will bring to the floor. But whether he was coming off a 21-point eruption against Michigan State or a 2-for-11 shooting night at TCU or anywhere in the chasm in between, Grimes’ teammates always maintained that he was one of the better — if not the best — shooters on the team and an integral piece for the rotation.
That unwavering support allowed Grimes to elevate his play, despite a recent stretch of seven consecutive games of single-digit scoring for the 2018 McDonald’s All-American.
Even before Grimes’ 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 4-for-7 3-point shooting in a 72-67 win at Oklahoma State kept KU alive in the Big 12 title race, junior forward Dedric Lawson called Grimes “a very hard-working kid,” while describing why he wasn’t worried about the freshman guard’s play.
“I’ve seen him in the gym a couple nights just working on his game,” Lawson shared this past Monday. “You know, sometimes going into college, you don’t know what to expect from a coach. I had the same problems when I went to Memphis. You just have to understand that there’s something bigger than you.”
Lawson said “Q,” as Grimes’ teammates call him, is about playing for others.
“He’s not a selfish person at all,” Lawson said.
Maybe that’s why the Jayhawks who know Grimes best always are singing his praises. After he played a starring role in KU’s third road win in 10 tries, Grimes thanked his teammates for their continued confidence in him.
“And everybody has a lot of faith in me on the offensive end,” Grimes said. “They know what I can do. My teammates and coaches have been real supportive of me.”
A 6-foot-5 freshman from The Woodlands, Texas, Grimes came through at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday looking more like a veteran who carries the team on a regular basis. With 2:42 to play in the second half, Grimes tied the game at 67 with a 3-pointer, off an assist from fellow freshman Ochai Agbaji.
Grimes called it “probably the biggest” shot of his career to date.
“Just knowing what’s on the line and what’s at stake right now. Just knowing that when Ochai swings the ball, I know he has confidence in me to hit that shot,” Grimes said. “I had hit a couple 3’s before that, so I just let it fly.”
Prior to that shot, Grimes made an equally important play on defense by forcing a held ball with the possession arrow pointing KU’s direction.
“I just knew how important this game was for us,” Grimes said of the Jayhawks maintaining their spot behind Big 12 co-leaders Texas Tech and Kansas State. “I just didn’t want to lose the game.”
Although he went 1-for-2 at the foul line with 1:38 to play, Grimes’ free throw gave Kansas (22-7 overall, 11-5 Big 12) the lead for good, as he finished with double-digit points for the second game in a row — something he hadn’t pulled off since the first two games of league play, back in the first week of January.
“He played his butt off,” junior Mitch Lightfoot said of Grimes at OSU. “The kid’s been putting in the work and that’s the Quentin we all know, and everybody needs to know that that’s what he can do, and we all believed in him like that.”
You can see Grimes, who thinks the rough part of his freshman season is behind him, enjoying himself more on the court lately. He’s not overthinking things. He looks comfortable and it’s bringing out his best qualities as a playmaker.
His impact as a passer may prove as important as his defense and shooting in the weeks ahead. In the second half at OSU, Grimes’ two assists to Lawson and one to Lightfoot gave KU easy baskets in the midst of a pressure-filled road game. And he seemed to get more satisfaction out of those dishes that provided buckets for teammates than he did from any of his numerous other contributions.
Grimes is a team-first player who is beginning to show more belief in himself on this still-evolving KU team. And he insists he couldn’t have reached this point without his teammates.
“We’ve been clicking as a team in practices. When you play good as a team, you feel good as an individual,” Grimes said of his growing assertiveness. “It’s easy for you to go out there and make plays.”