Mighty quinn has shown he be­longs

Downstate tuscola star’s de­ci­sion to test him­self against top chicago tal­ent this sum­mer pay­ing off

Chicago Sun-Times - - CENTER OF ATTENTION - BY JOE HENRICKSEN | @joe­hoop­sre­port

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.’’

Jalen Quinn

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. ✶

CHAM­PAIGN NEWS-GAZETTE

Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn (left) has re­ceived schol­ar­ship of­fers from UIC, South­east Mis­souri State and South­ern Illi­nois.

CHAM­PAIGN NEWS-GAZETTE

Quinn (left) says the five-hour round trips he has made to the Chicago area this sum­mer have been worth it.

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