Alabama's Quinerly seeking sweet ending in March Madness

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Jahvon Quinerly’s knee injury that helped doom Alabama’s NCAA Tournament chances a year ago is hardly the start of his college basketball saga.

It’s probably not even the low point.

The Crimson Tide point guard, who has re-emerged as one of the top players on one of the nation’s best teams, is winding down a career that veered off course at times but has a shot at ending in storybook fashion as March Madness heads to the regional semifinals.

“We could go all the way back to when I committed to Arizona and the FBI scandal,” Quinerly said after his 22-point performance against Maryland. “I always think of it but I don’t like to bring it up to the media because I feel like I’m just bringing up old news. It’s just really surreal because I really have been through a lot.”

Not many athletes make it to this point after their career starts off with an “FBI scandal.”

Quinerly has helped the top-seeded Tide (31-5) reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in his career, setting up a meeting Friday night with No. 5 seed San Diego State (29-6) in Louisville, Kentucky.

This comes after struggling much of the season to regain his old form after tearing his left ACL before even getting a chance to break much of a sweat in the Tide’s second-round loss to Notre Dame a year ago. That injury, which forced Quinerly to postpone plans to turn pro, came one year to the day before his big game against Maryland.

Quinerly is the only Alabama player still around who played in an 88-78 overtime loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16 two years ago after earning Southeastern Conference Tournament MVP honors. Coach Nate Oats said he can’t help but wonder if last year’s team would have made it that far again with a healthy Quinerly, adding that he has “taken ownership of this team.”

“He’s playing his best basketball by far right now,” Oats said. “He doesn’t want to let his teammates down. He wants to take this team as far as we could go.”

Quinerly's college career was eventful well before that knee injury.

It started with Arizona, where the five-star recruit was planning to join three cousins before he was the subject of allegations about recruiting payouts as part of a federal investigation.

Then-Arizona assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson, who had helped recruit him out of New Jersey, later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. A wiretap recording said he gave $15,000 of a $20,000 bribe to Quinerly’s mother, Caren. Richardson’s attorney later said the coach kept the money. In the meantime, Quinerly and his family lived under a cloud of suspicion.

Quinerly headed to Villanova, which had offered him a scholarship as a ninth-grader. After playing less than 10 minutes a game as a freshman, he opted to join Oats at Alabama, still known for being a powerhouse in football, not basketball.

“When I transferred to ’Bama, people laughed at me,” Quinerly said. “I promise you people laughed at me. They didn’t think I would win the way that we have won. It’s just a really good feeling proving people wrong. I feel like that motivated me to go even harder, and it’s definitely special getting back to the Sweet 16 after everything that I’ve been through. I’m really looking to take it the whole way with this special group.”

At Alabama, he had to sit out a season after the NCAA denied a request for a waiver because of what he had been through with Arizona. When he did play, he emerged as one of the Tide’s better players in the 2020-21 season, averaging nearly 15 points and ending it with 15 consecutive double-digit scoring efforts. Quinerly put up similar numbers last season before he was injured.

Quinerly has started the past five games, all Tide wins, after coming off the bench all season. For the most part, he struggled to return to form until late February. Things turned around against Arkansas and Auburn, when he combined for 40 points and 13 assists.

“I knew it would come back. I just didn’t know when,” Quinerly said. “I didn’t know if it would take 14 months, 16 months. To see it come back like month 9, month 10, it’s an amazing feeling.”

It took multiple rehab sessions and workouts. It also took plenty of time working on his mind, too, ultimately leading to the point where he was able to stop fixating on his knee.

“I have a therapist I talk to about my injury and just mental health,” Quinerly said. “That’s a real thing. Just talking to the right people. It took some time to get to the point where I felt like I could go out there and do the things I used to do.”

His own team and family aren’t alone in being happy about that. Maryland coach Kevin Willard, then at Seton Hall, had been watching Quinerly since the point guard’s ninth-grade year.

“I’ve watched him every second of the way,” Willard recalled. “To see him turn into the player he’s turning into and to see what he went through early in his college career and now seeing him blossoming and having confidence — he has the swagger he had in high school back."

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AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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