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Meet Jalen Quinn, the freshman with the skills to lift Tuscola basketball
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Meet Jalen Quinn, the freshman with the skills to lift Tuscola basketball


TUSCOLA — People have made a habit of telling Jalen Quinn how good he can be, and how big his footprint can be on the Tuscola basketball program.

He could break the scoring record, they tell him. He could be a 1,000-point scorer for the Warriors — something that's been done by 16 players in the program — he's reminded.

Those are the kind of goals that get set at the foot of a player when they're a 6-foot-2 freshman with smooth handles, a sweet jump shot, the quickness to leave defenders in the dust before they even know they're on defense, while averaging 18 points and seven rebounds through his first six high school varsity games.

Those aren't Quinn's goals right now, though. He'll rattle off a list of landmarks he wants to reach: Win the Central Illinois Conference, win regionals, make a splash this week at the Monticello Holiday Hoopla, where the Warriors open the tournament at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday against Neoga.

All of his goals are absent of individual accolades. If those come in his high school career, and they likely will, he'll cherish them when the time comes.

“I do want to be known as a basketball player," Quinn said. "It’s kind of crazy thinking that I could be one of the best basketball players to come through Tuscola High School and leave my mark on the court."

He's on the quiet side, not one to display emotion if he doesn't have to. But teammates and Tuscola boys basketball coach Justin Bozarth see a fire in him starting to burst into flames on the court that will burn for the next four years.

“He has really high expectations for himself," Bozarth said "He has goals and ambitions for what he wants to do as a team and what he wants to do individually. He demands a lot from himself and in turn he gets some pretty good production out of it."

Before Quinn even put on a Warriors uniform in the summer, his teammates knew what to expect. They continuously asked Bozarth when Quinn would get consistent reps with the varsity team. They knew he could help from Day 1.

While Quinn has been on Bozarth's radar since roughly the third grade when he was dribbling between his legs and finishing layups with both hands, his teammates got a first-hand look at him during an eighth-grade game last year.

Bozarth remembers Quinn hitting five 3-pointers in that game, and Quinn can quickly rattle off that he had 28 points — he can recite his box score from most games. The players congratulated him on a good game before leaving.

But they were more vocal to Bozarth about what Quinn could do for Tuscola.

“Our kids were like, ‘Coach, he could play for us right now,'" Bozarth recalled.

In fact, it turns out that Quinn can play basketball at a lot of places. In August, after some research Bozarth did on Twitter, Quinn was invited to the CP3 Camp in North Carolina, a who's who of up-coming basketball talent put on by NBA star Chris Paul. Quinn was nervous at first. It was his first experience with kids bigger, taller and stronger than him.

It took, by Bozarth's estimation, about 30 minutes for Quinn to settle in during drill work on the first day. Then, in a two-on-two drill, Quinn ripped through a defender and got to the hoop. Layup. Next possession: 3-pointer. Following possession: 3-pointer.

“You could see all of the weight of the world off of his shoulders," Bozarth said. "It was like, ‘Now I can just play basketball.’"

It was long trip to even get to North Carolina, about 12 hours in the car with Bozarth and Tuscola girls basketball coach Tim Kohlbecker — self-proclaimed basketball junkies. Quinn, Bozarth and Kohlbecker arrived Friday morning, and Quinn's family arrived Friday evening after a work obligation in the morning.

These days Quinn can readily admit that he was nervous on the way to the camp, but it wasn't that easy to identify on the drive there.

“This is a kid who doesn’t have a whole lot of emotions," Bozarth said. "Was he nervous going in there? We had no idea. We had 12 hours to figure it out and we couldn't get it out of him.

“He never really shows a whole lot of emotion one way or the other. He could be having the worst day of his life or he could be having the best day of his life and I’m not sure you’d know the difference."

Quinn learned how to force contact while driving to the hoop while flashing his playmaking and shooting ability. He got used to cameras in his face and nationally-ranked talent surrounding him, and also a familiar face in Eisenhower freshman Brylan Phillips, who attended the camp.

Word quickly got around Tuscola that Quinn was at the camp and questions and attention followed. There's an added focus on Quinn now, four months removed from being there, but he's taking it in stride.

“I feel like I’ve had a little more pressure on my shoulders coming into games and trying to show out for everybody who is watching the games," he said.

Tuscola is a football town, Quinn knows it and everyone else knows it. When the Warriors are mentioned for boys sports, football is at the top of the list. Tuscola has pumped out plenty of talent on the field, or the baseball diamond or on the cross country or track and field teams.

Basketball, though, hasn't had the same success on the court. Good players have come through the program, like all-time leading scorer Nick Bates and his 1,597 points, but basketball wasn't their top priority. It's precisely why it's so hard to project too far ahead for Quinn

“I think he’s got a high ceiling," Bozarth said. "Honestly, it’s one of those deals that we’re all new to this.

“He’s a pure basketball kid with a lot of pure basketball talent. We’ve had a lot of kids who are good basketball players, but may not be basketball-smooth. It’s much different to have somebody like him. I’m not sure if we’ve had that for some time."

Then again, Jalen Quinns don't come to Tuscola all the time.

“He’s almost always the most athletic person on the field or court," teammate Will Little said. "He makes some amazing plays where you think that almost nobody else could do that on this field."

Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25


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