Jahvon Quinerly would lay awake at night, thinking how it all went wrong. How he spent the better part of two years inactive, on the bench and sideline, not playing. How someone with every scholarship offer he could want in high school could wind up in his current predicament.
“I felt like I lost two valuable years,” the Hackensack, N.J., native recalled.
Quinerly, a former five-star recruit, began to make up for lost time this year, helping lead Alabama to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 17 years after playing a pivotal role in the Crimson Tide’s SEC regular-season and postseason titles. Two years ago, he was a rarely used reserve at Villanova. Last year, after transferring, he had to sit out.
He was waiting for this exact moment, an opportunity to prove that his high ranking wasn’t a mistake, that his ability hadn’t vanished, his game hadn’t regressed.
“This year has been a very special year,” the 6-foot-1 Quinerly said, as No. 2 seed Alabama prepared to meet No. 11 seed UCLA in a South Region second-round game Sunday. “It’s been a long journey for me.
“I’m a true believer in everything happens for a reason. I’m just blessed to be where I’m at right now.”
Quinerly, the SEC Tournament MVP, has come up big in the NCAA Tournament. He keyed the Crimson Tide’s rout of No. 10 seed Maryland in the second round, producing 14 points, 11 assists and five rebounds . And he provided timely plays to avoid an upset in the opening round against No. 15 seed Iona. Now he’s two wins away from the Final Four.
The road to get to this point was trying. He was initially committed to Arizona, before the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption led to the arrest of his lead recruiter, Emanuel “Book” Richardson, who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. Richardson was accused of taking $20,000 in bribes and planning to use $15,000 of it to land a top point guard, suggested to be Quinerly. Richardson’s attorney wrote in a sentencing memorandum that his client never gave any money to the family.
Quinerly decommitted and signed with Villanova, which was originally his second choice. He was cleared to play, but didn’t quite fit with the Wildcats, and averaged just 3.2 points in 9.1 minutes. Quinerly didn’t even get off the bench in six games.
“They play spread out at Villanova, but they don’t play as fast as we do,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “I think he’s best at both. …. Part of it, too, you go somewhere and it doesn’t work. Now you come to us, he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, and he’s trying to prove it’s not him necessarily.”
Quinerly had to wait, though, after his waiver request for immediate eligibility was turned down. He had to sit out a full season. During that year, he practiced against Alabama’s Kira Lewis Jr., who became a first-round pick in last year’s NBA draft, and developed a strong relationship with Oats. In that time, he began working on the finer details of his game, improving his decision-making and dedicating himself to defense.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to play if I didn’t guard,” he said.
Oats had nothing but praise for Quinerly, who has selflessly accepted his role as a reserve to provide needed firepower off the bench. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer (12.7), best 3-point shooter (44.2 percent) and one of its premier playmakers (3.2 assists). Teams like to switch against Alabama because of its ability to shoot it from deep, but it is incredibly tough to do that against the shifty Quinerly.
“He comes in and changes the pace of the game as soon as he gets in,” Oats said. “He’s got that Jersey toughness, and he’s bringing it out on the defensive end.”
Quinerly is doing everything he imagined he could. It just took a lot longer to happen than he expected.