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Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn emerges as one of the state’s top juniors

Jalen Quinn is the best player and prospect in Illinois outside the Chicago area.

Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn.
Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn.
Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

Jalen Quinn has made the drive from Tuscola, a town 30 minutes south of Champaign, to gyms in the Chicago area 14 times over the past seven weeks.

After starring for a remote Class 1A basketball team the past two seasons for a school with just over 300 students, 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 has yet to be really seen and tested on a regular basis.

The junior point guard was determined to become a better player. He welcomed an invite from Mike Mullins and the Illinois Wolves club basketball team to both improve as a player and enhance his stock as a prospect.

So he takes the drive up Interstate 57 to work out and scrimmage with the Illinois Wolves for a few hours on Saturday and heads back to Tuscola. Then he does it all over again on Sunday.

After taking in several of his workouts and scrimmages in recent weeks, it’s all paying off. He’s not a known commodity just yet. But he will be. The interest will soon go to a whole other level.

Quinn was already among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top dozen prospects in the class by the time his sophomore campaign ended. But watching Quinn this summer has vaulted the 6-3 guard even higher as he checks in as the No. 4 ranked prospect in the Class of 2022.

While a global pandemic all but shut down the club basketball world, including the Under Armour circuit the Illinois Wolves play in, Quinn has still been able to compete against other Division I players. The Illinois Wolves provide that in every practice and scrimmage. It’s a program littered with Division I prospects at all ages, led by the state’s No. 1 prospect, Max Christie of Rolling Meadows.

Knowing what the Illinois 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 experience higher-level basketball. A talent like Quinn needed more than regular-season games against the Arcola Purple Riders, Macon Hawks and Fisher Bunnies.

Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn.
Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn.
Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

Quinn admits he didn’t know what to expect in that first practice with the Wolves. Everything was new for him as he was the “downstate” kid in a new program. Early on he was a bit tentative. But week by week 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,” said Quinn of the experience. “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. Now it feels like I’ve been playing with them for awhile. 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.”

Prior to his Wolves arrival, 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 one,” said Bozarth, who watched Quinn average 16 points a game in his first 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 this past season, Quinn put up some big numbers for a 26-win team. He averaged 21 points, 7.5 rebounds, four assists and three steals. He’s already scored over 1,000 career points.

“We feel like here, at this level, he’s proven himself,” Bozarth said. “But we now know he has to do it at the state and national levels. Playing with the Wolves is an opportunity to showcase what he’s capable of, and he does want to show what he can do as a player. The Wolves provide a platform and an opportunity for him that we can’t provide. So every rep, every practice, every scrimmage with them is a chance for him to get better.”

Quinn is a strong, put-together 6-3 combo guard with an easy way about him on the basketball floor. He brings a blend of power and finesse with his build and crafty game in the backcourt.

The offensive tools scream “versatile guard.” He has an uncanny ability to finish with both hands around the basket and an improved perimeter jumper that includes a three-point shooting percentage of 39 percent as a sophomore. While he plays with excellent pace, Quinn has terrific vision and passing ability with the ball in his hands.

Big names in Illinois like Christie, Bryce Hopkins and AJ Casey dominate the headlines and are nationally-ranked players. His Illinois Wolves teammate in the Class of 2022, Yorkville Christian’s Jaden Schutt, is one of the hottest names in the junior class with offers from half of the Big Ten. But Quinn is in the midst of establishing himself in his own right.

He may not be an EJ Liddell-type, a downstater from Belleville West who was the state’s best player while winning back-to-back state championships and is now at Ohio State. But right now there is no question he can lay claim to this: Quinn is the best player and prospect in Illinois outside the Chicago area.

A three-sport athlete in the tiny town of Tuscola –– he’s been all-conference as a receiver in football and as a freshman was the starting shortstop for a Class 1A super-sectional baseball team— Quinn is now focusing solely on basketball. That increased attention to the sport will only refine and boost his game. He’s already revamped his body, gaining 15 pounds of muscle since the end of his sophomore season in March.

UIC and coach Luke Yaklich was the first program to offer Quinn. Southeast Missouri State has also extended an offer. SIU offered on Monday. That’s been it so far.

Quinn, who says his recruiting “has been going pretty good,” knows it’s early and recognizes few have yet to see him play live. Sometimes he does think about having only two offers.

“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. That’s all I have to worry about. I have time to get myself out there more.”

But he has heard from a lengthy list of mid-major and high-major coaching staffs –– currently 20-plus and counting –– since college programs could begin calling prospects in the junior class this past June. In addition to UIC, SEMO and SIU, Quinn says he’s heard the most from Purdue, Missouri, Tulsa, Utah State, Belmont, Colorado State, and Santa Clara.

What Bozarth has witnessed in his two years of coaching Quinn is the drive to be better. It’s a characteristic that will serve him well as continues to climb from unknown Tuscola to the mainstream of the college basketball recruiting world.

“He puts in the time and does whatever it takes to make himself a better player,” Bozarth said. “He’s not satisfied.”

Quinn drives three times a week to Bloomington-Normal to train. He hustles 23 miles north to Champaign to find competition. He’s converted his garage into a weight room. And the trips to the Chicago area this summer have proven fruitful.

Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn.
Tuscola’s Jalen Quinn.
Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

The recent flurry of attention has meant a lot to Quinn, he admits. Quinn says he and Bozarth would talk and agree that it was just a matter of eventually being seen. But he quickly adds that the work is just beginning.

Quinn wants to continue to work on his three-point shot and become a better, more vocal point guard who can improve in his reading of defenses.

“You can’t let that stuff get to you and settle,” Quinn said of the recent attention. “You have to keep working and get better, because people are obviously coming after you and that spot. That’s kind of where I was –– at the bottom of the pack and working my way up. People will always be trying to get the best of you. I know that, so I have to be confident while continuing to work.”

If Quinn were playing in the Chicago Public League or in the south suburbs or in a conference like the East Suburban Catholic or West Suburban, he would be a known commodity among high school basketball fans. It’s going to take some time.

Quinn isn’t worried.

“I know I will be seen and have my time eventually,” he said.