Meet Jalen Quinn, the area’s next rising star

Meet Jalen Quinn, the area’s next rising star

TUSCOLA — Justin Bozarth follows grassroots basketball during the summer when he’s not coaching. So when the second-year Tuscola boys’ basketball coach started seeing invitations go out in early July to the CP3 Rising Stars Camps for 2022 prospects he’d seen throughout the summer, his thoughts turned to his own incoming freshman: Jalen Quinn.

“I saw a couple other kids that had been invited,” Bozarth said, “and, obviously I’m a little biased with Jalen just because he’s one of our own, but I thought he was as good — if not better — than some of these other kids getting invites.”

That sparked Bozarth to gauge Quinn’s interest in the camp. 

He told his incoming guard to check his calendar and with his mom, Danielle, to see if the camp was something he wanted to pursue because he was willing to put together a nomination.

“When he called me back, he was naming off all the different guys that were in the NBA that had been to the camp,” Bozarth said. “He had been on YouTube looking at different things. That’s about as excited as you’re going to see from him.”

That excitement level hit a new peak when Quinn received his invitation during the last week of July — even if he almost didn’t believe his coach when he called with the good news.

“I thought it was just a joke because I didn’t think the (nomination) would work to get in,” Quinn said. “I was asking coach if it was for real.”

It was as real as it gets. Quinn left for Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday night and will return Monday after testing himself against some of the other top prospects in the 2022 class.

Upping the ante 

The CP3 Rising Stars Camp annually brings in players that become among the nation’s elite as their high school careers progress. In the last five years, the invitation list has included everyone from local products like Champaign Central’s Tim Finke (2014) and Khailieo Terry (2017) to future Illini like Da’Monte Williams (2013) and recent NBA draft picks Wendell Carter and Mitchell Robinson (2013). 

That doesn’t include a litany of camp participants that turned into the next batch of coveted five-star recruits. Kansas’ incoming backcourt of Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson attended the camp in 2014. Cole Anthony, a top-three prospect in the 2019 class, was part of the 2015 camp, and the 2016 camp featured five-star 2020 recruits Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Johnson.

“I think if I just play hard I’ll end up doing well competing with the best guys in the country,” Quinn said before he left for North Carolina. “Very curious because I’m not used to playing this type of caliber players all the time. Once I do, I think it will help make my game a lot better.”

Quinn already upped his level of competition once this summer. Some injuries left Tuscola thin in the backcourt, so Quinn was immediately plugged in as the Warriors’ starting point guard. 

“He’s extremely smooth with the basketball,” Bozarth said of his 6-foot-2, lefty guard. “Probably his greatest trait is he makes everybody on the court better. He does a really good job of putting guys in the spots where they’re comfortable.

“He made a huge jump from playing against eighth-grade kids to playing against juniors and seniors who have lived in the weight room for three or four years. Initially one of my big worries was how he was going to do with the physicality of it all. He had games this summer or different times in open gyms where you’d forget that he’s a freshman.”

Quinn said he tried to make the most of his opportunity this summer playing for Tuscola. He knew the Warriors needed a ball handler given some injuries to returning players, so that’s what he tried to provide.

“I just played a role and fit right in,” Quinn said. “I showed that I could handle the ball with a lot of pressure. I showed my passing game. And I showed I would get down and play defense against anybody’s best ball handler.”

Staying busy

Quinn admits he felt some pressure when he first started playing with the Tuscola varsity this summer. Mainly because he felt like everyone knew he was a freshman.

That was one of his mom’s worries.

“I was very hesitant at first, but once again with his hard work he really fit in with the senior class and the boys,” Danielle Quinn said. “This was pretty much his dream since he’s been little to play on the varsity team as a freshman.”

Quinn split his spring and summer among basketball with the Illinois Irish AAU program in mostly April and May, Tuscola in June and baseball more in July. The shortstop/pitcher played in a few showcase events, but said he’d probably turn his focus fully toward basketball next year.

That’s always been the top sport for the lifelong Tuscola native.

“He’s had a ball in his hand since he’s been 2,” Danielle Quinn said. “If it’s not a basketball, then it’s a baseball of course, but I think basketball has always been his main passion. We live right behind the park here in Tuscola, so he’s always outside in the backyard shooting. When there’s some downtime at home, he’s always in the gym.”

Quinn showed he could hang on the basketball court during Tuscola’s summer season. The CP3 Rising Stars Camp gives him the same opportunity to do so on a national stage.

“He and I have had several conversations,” Bozarth said. “You can either look at it as he gets to go against the best players in the country, or the best players in the country get to go against him. It will be an opportunity for him to find out what else is out there and then what he needs to work on.”