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Knicks vs. Raptors: RJ, IQ, Brunson,... sound off on MSG homecoming

A game for the ages will take place in New York on Jan. 20. Mark the date, so you never forget.

Miami Heat v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Love them or hate them. Loath them or praise them. Whatever you fall in the zero-to-hundred spectrum of appreciation for these two kiddos, the moment you have been waiting for is finally here.

After three weeks or 21 days, whatever you prefer, former New York Knicks franchise icon RJ Barrett and homegrown talent Immanuel Quickley will play ball inside the Garden once again—only now wearing uniforms in complementary colors to the classic Knickerbocker blue and orange.

It’s going to be a hypercharged atmosphere inside the Mecca on Saturday evening (tip-off at 7:30 ET). There will be (probably, I assume) a little tribute video depicting Barrett’s (and I hope Quickley’s) best moments while they were still members of the NYK organization. Don’t rule out shedding a tear (count me in).

With only a few hours between now and the on-court action, here’s everything the protagonist of this upcoming matchup has said and told media members during the past few hours.

RJ Barrett

On his return to the Garden on Saturday...

“Going to be a lot of fun, going back to a place where my NBA career started. It’s going to be cool. There’s going to be a lot of mixed emotions. Trying to focus is going to be the main thing.”

On getting a tribute video shown at MSG...

“[No active players] get those.”

On the trade and moving on from playing in New York for the first four seasons (and a half) of his career...

“Bittersweet because of course I enjoy being [in Toronto], playing for the Raptors, being at home. But then leaving New York, the place that has kind of been home for me the last four and a half years, it’s definitely difficult. A lot of memories, a lot of teammates, just friends and staff and a lot of coaches. Man, it’s everything. All the relationships I built over there. That part is tough for sure.”

On New York City and the Madison Square Garden faithful...

“I love the fans. I don’t know what they’re going to do. But I love the fans and I appreciate them rooting for me. I appreciate them getting on me. Everything was always love in New York. I really from the bottom of my heart truly enjoyed being there.”

“One thing you’ve got to know about the Knicks fans, they’re passionate. They want to win. They want to win just as bad or maybe more than the players do. To understand that was huge for me.”

On former teammates Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, his fit with them in New York, and the future of the Knicks...

“You’ve got an All-NBA player, you’ve got a soon-to-be All-Star over there. Those guys are putting up a lot of points every night. A lot of assists. They’re really doing everything over there. With them, I always looked at them, tried to watch what they do, learn, grow my game. I always tried to help, see where I fit in along with those guys. I thought we were a three-headed monster for a little bit. Obviously, as time goes along, they made the trade and it’s been working well for them. So I’m happy for them.”

“I thought we were a three-headed monster for a little bit. And then obviously as time goes along, they made the trade and it worked out for them. So I’m happy for them.”

On his up-and-down tenure with the Knicks and dealing with the spotlight...

“I think everyone gets frustrated a little bit. But I think for me I always remember who I am. I had my parents staying in my ear, my family staying in my ear. I kept working. I didn’t try to get into any back and forth.”

On his best memories as a Knick...

“My favorite moment was when we ran out of the tunnel the first playoffs after having no fans all year, and then hearing the sold-out crowd. That was insane. That was my favorite moment.

“My most memorable moment was hitting the game-winner against the Celtics in the Garden. And then of course dunking on (Atlanta’s Bogdan Bogdanovic in the playoffs), that was my favorite moment, too.”

On not having any hard feelings toward the Knicks after being included in trade negotiations before signing a four-year, $107 million extension with New York...

“What do you think I was thinking? Shit, I got a payday. That’s what I was thinking. I was happy.”

On his new role in Toronto compared to OG Anunoby’s new role in New York...

“That’s not me (someone standing in a corner waiting for the ball on offense). I enjoy playing free moving. So I’m enjoying the playing style here (in Toronto).”

On facing the Knicks and having to defend his former teammates for the first time...

“It’s a different team so you get different looks in another system. I think I’ve been doing a great job capitalizing.”

“I know them. They know me, too. It’s going to be fun.”

“They’ve been playing well. I think the trade worked out for both sides.”

Immanuel Quickley

On the Knicks faithful and his past as a New York Knickerbocker...

“I said it in my Instagram and The Players Tribune essay, that it was nothing but love when I was there. I feel part of my childhood is gone because that’s kind of where I grew up as a professional basketball player. I was in New York my whole life. Change is always crazy but it happens.”

“Business of basketball. The Knicks made a decision, not really much you can do about it besides say goodbye to everybody and move on. Expecting to play a basketball game that day and didn’t.”

On adapting to the Raptors and living in Toronto...

“Everything’s new, totally different country. I’m still learning everything, still learning my routines, still learning names.”

On going against former teammate Jalen Brunson at MSG...

“I ain’t going to lie, we didn’t practice that much [during the season]. Training camp was like that though—I would guard him in practice so it was like that.”

Jalen Brunson

On how the Toronto-New York trade is seemingly working for both franchises...

“I mean, it’s a win-win situation. Those guys are playing at a high level and we’ve obviously been playing well as of late.”

On RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, with whom he got to play for a season and a half between his arrival in New York in July 2022 and the trade...

“Oh yeah, being teammates with those guys for about two years, those guys meant a lot to me. They kind of welcomed me here and they just helped introduce me to this team and obviously to this city and stuff like that, so we have a great relationship and those guys mean a lot to me and I wish them nothing but the best.”

“I hope they don’t play well on Saturday but those guys are capable of doing big things.”

On keeping relationships with former teammates after getting traded and moving to a different team...

“Just from my experience, I still have a lot of friends in Dallas so we keep things cordial when we’re not playing.”

“You create a lot of relationships in this league so you really get to see where people can go with their careers but the relationships and the friendships stay the same off the court.”

Isaiah Hartenstein

On the trade working for both Toronto and New York...

“I feel Quick being able to start and RJ having a better role now, and what OG’s done for us, you couldn’t ask for more. Just having both sides in a win-win situation, I’m excited for them—how they have been performing over there.

On facing RJ and IQ for the first time, inside the Garden of all places...

“I know those two, and it’s going to be personal for them. So we’re excited. We’re excited to have them back. They’re great people. Just having them back in the Garden is going to be something special. I know it’s going to be special for them, too.”

Donte DiVincenzo

On the trade and what’s coming to MSG on Saturday...

“Super excited. I think the trade was a win-win and there are not many that happen like that. I’m excited for the Garden to give [Barrett and Quickley] a warm welcome because it’s much deserved.”

“I will say, being on the other side of it, they’re going to come in on Saturday with extra focus. Naturally, you come in with a chip on your shoulder, a point to prove. It’s natural and it’s a good thing to deal with. We just have to lock in on everybody.”

Tom Thibodeau

On OG Anunoby and what makes him a great addition to the Knicks roster...

“[There is] great value in his versatility, because of the size and strength and quickness, that combination. His anticipation—just very disruptive, too, gets his hands around the ball all the time, gets deflections, and that sort of thing. So we want to try to take advantage of that as much as we can.”

Chris Boucher

On OG Anunoby’s personality and lack of words...

“You guys think that’s a persona but that’s really who he is.”

“That’s what you guys are going to get all the time. Don’t be surprised. It’s just his personality.”

“That’s how he became my best friend, to be honest with you. At first I was like, ‘Man, why is he like that?’ And when I realized that’s really who he is, I was like, ‘Well, you could always work with people like that, people who stay to themselves regardless of what happens.’”

“It’s kind of like a Kawhi-type. Where everybody is like Kawhi is so quiet, but then after you’re around him, you’re like, OK, ‘OG is like that.’”

On Anunoby’s unique skill set...

“I’ve been with OG for like (six) years now. I’ve seen his growth, I’ve seen what he’s capable of doing. Who would not want a guy who could guard the best guy on the court and shoot the ball? He’s not asking for shots. He’s just doing it. Really low maintenance guy.”

Gary Trent Jr.

On the future of RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley in Toronto following the trade...

“Obviously, RJ has already been establishing himself so I’d say the biggest opportunity is for Quick. An opportunity for him to grow, to see where it goes. Good, bad, ugly, however it’s going to be. They’re rolling with him. He has every opportunity to go out there and play hard and whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be.”

Masai Ujiri

On RJ Barrett’s father bringing his son to him looking for advice before getting drafted to play in the NBA...

“Every single time he brought him to a game, he’d bring him to me. Every single time. He’d say, ‘Here’s my son, he loves basketball, please say something to him.’ Every single time.”

On Barrett finding himself in a better situation in Toronto than the one in New York and RJ’s upside...

“What do I think of [RJ] and, can there be growth? Absolutely. He’s 23 years old and I think sometimes these players are put in those situations.”

“Sometimes in the beginning of their careers, they’re not in the right situation, to be honest. We’re hoping with him, that was the case. So that he can be better here.”