Mighty quinn has shown he belongs
Downstate tuscola star’s decision to test himself against top chicago talent this summer paying off
Jalen Quinn has made the drive from Tuscola, a town 30 minutes south of Champaign, to gyms in the Chicago area 14 times in the last seven weeks. After starring for a remote Class 1A basketball team the last two seasons, the five-hour round trip twice every weekend was a necessity — at least in Quinn’s eyes.
It was the obvious next step for a player bubbling over with talent but who had yet to be tested on a regular basis.
The 6-3 junior point guard was determined to become a better player. He welcomed an invitation from Mike Mullins and the Illinois Wolves club team to improve his game and enhance his stock as a prospect.
After taking in several of his workouts and scrimmages in recent weeks, it’s plain to see it’s all paying off. He’s not a known commodity just yet, but he will be. The interest soon will go to a whole other level.
Quinn was already among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top dozen prospects in his class by the time his sophomore season ended. But he has vaulted even higher this summer, checking in as the No. 4 prospect in the Class of 2022.
While the pandemic all but shut down the club-basketball world, including the Under Armour circuit the Wolves play in, Quinn still has been able to compete against other Division I players. The Wolves provide that in every practice and scrimmage. It’s a program littered with Division I prospects at all ages, led by the No. 1 prospect in the state, Max Christie of Rolling Meadows.
Knowing what the Wolves could provide — playing on a bigger stage and against top competition — Quinn wanted to commit himself to do whatever needed to be done to play higherlevel basketball. A talent such as his needed more than regular-season games against Arcola, Macon and Fisher.
Quinn admitted he didn’t know what to expect in his first practice with the Wolves. Everything was new for him, and he was a bit tentative early on. Week by week, however, he became more relaxed and confident. You could see it in his body language.
‘‘It’s been good for me, and I’ve loved it,’’ Quinn said. ‘‘It’s all been worth it. The Wolves bring a lot to the table, and I feel fortunate for the opportunity. I am more comfortable now, and it’s been easy getting along with my teammates. It’s definitely raised my confidence level to play with and against other top players in the state. They are pushing you to get better.’’
Before his time with the Wolves, Quinn was establishing himself as a big name in central Illinois. Tuscola coach Justin Bozarth immediately knew he had a special talent.
‘‘He was given the keys as a freshman at point guard from Day 1,’’ said Bozarth, who watched Quinn average 16 points in his first
‘‘I have to work and appreciate what I have. Putting my head down about offers I don’t have yet is only going to keep me down. I have to keep pushing and get better.’’
year of varsity action. ‘‘He was shy and trying to figure out how to fit in, as any freshman would. But we’ve seen that shift to where he’s grown into a vocal leader who also leads by his work ethic.’’
As a sophomore last season, Quinn put up some big numbers for a team that won 26 games. He averaged 21 points, 7.5 rebounds, four assists and three steals. He already has scored more than 1,000 career points.
‘‘We feel like here, at this level, he’s proved himself,’’ Bozarth said. ‘‘But we now know he has to do it at the state and national levels.’’
Quinn is a strong combo guard with an easy way about him on the court. He brings a blend of power and finesse with his build and crafty game in the backcourt.
His offensive tools scream ‘‘versatile guard.’’ He can finish with both hands around the basket and has improved his outside shooting, as evidenced by his 39% three-point shooting as a sophomore. While he plays with excellent pace, Quinn also has terrific vision and passing ability.
He might not be an EJ Liddell-type, a downstater from Belleville West who was the best player in Illinois while winning back-to-back state championships and is now at Ohio State. But there is no question Quinn can lay claim to this: He is the best player and prospect in Illinois outside the Chicago area.
UIC, with coach Luke Yaklich, was the first college to offer Quinn a scholarship. Southeast Missouri State also has extended an offer. Southern Illinois made an offer Monday. That has been it so far.
‘‘I have to work and appreciate what I have,’’ Quinn said. ‘‘Putting my head down about offers I don’t have yet is only going to keep me down. I have to keep pushing and get better.’’
If Quinn were playing in the Public League, in the south suburbs or in a conference such as the East Suburban Catholic, he would be a known commodity among high school basketball fans. It’s going to take some time. Quinn isn’t worried, however.
‘‘I know I will be seen and have my time eventually,’’ he said. ✶
Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn (left) has received scholarship offers from UIC, Southeast Missouri State and Southern Illinois.
Quinn (left) says the five-hour round trips he has made to the Chicago area this summer have been worth it.