Alabama point guard Jahvon Quinerly’s situation just doesn’t fit all neat and tidy into one of the NCAA’s buckets. He wasn’t run off by his former school, Villanova, and there was no egregious conduct or a hostile environment that caused him to leave. He wasn’t dealing with a physical illness of a family member, or suffering from one himself.
There’s no box to check for having your entire life turned upside down as the result of an FBI probe, or your mother being accused — and later cleared — of taking money from an assistant coach. There’s nowhere on a form to indicate you went to school at a place you never truly wanted to attend in the first place.
So Quinerly must sit this season, the NCAA Division I Committee for Legislative Relief said earlier this week after they rejected his appeal.
“I just don’t understand how they aren’t letting him play,” Jahvon’s father, Mark Quinerly, told me in the family’s first public comments since the news of college basketball’s corruption scandal broke more than two years ago. “It doesn’t make sense with everything he’s gone through.”
Mark and his wife, Caren, never wanted their son to go across the country for college in the first place. But it was Jahvon’s dream to play in the Arizona program — especially with its rich tradition of point guards — so they signed off on his decision despite some trepidation. Jahvon announced his commitment to the Wildcats on Aug. 8, 2017.
The following month, Quinerly was implicated (though not identified by name) in the FBI probe that shook college basketball. That Quinerly was “Player 5” in the FBI complaint, released on Sept. 26, 2017, was clear based on the date he committed to Arizona. The allegations were that then-Arizona assistant Book Richardson received $15,000 from an undercover FBI agent to pay Caren Quinerly for her son’s commitment to play for the school.
When the news first broke, social media exploded, with fans attacking both Jahvon and his mother.
But Richardson told both the federal government and the NCAA that he never gave the Quinerly family money, and Richardson reaffirmed that stance when contacted by Stadium earlier this week. Most are still unaware that the Quinerly family was cleared of all wrongdoing by the NCAA following a lengthy investigation in which the family was forced to turn over bank and telephone records and their most sensitive personal information.
“As he admitted in court today, Emanuel Richardson, a former Arizona men’s basketball coach, abused his position as a mentor and coach to student-athletes for his own personal gain,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement back in January. “Richardson, entrusted to help players develop as athletes and young men, instead helped himself to the cash offered by unscrupulous agents and financial advisors.”
“Mr. Richardson never gave them the money and did not jeopardize their careers in basketball,” added Richardon’s lawyer, Craig Mordock, in the Sentencing Memorandum.
By the time Quinerly was cleared, Tucson was a distant memory. A month after the news broke, his parents took control of his recruitment, with Jahvon decommitting from Arizona in mid-October. There had been no communication with anyone on the Arizona staff after Sept. 26, and there was also none by the NCAA until this past summer following the federal trials.
“We just felt it was best for him not to go to Arizona with everything that was going on,” Caren Quinerly said. “But Jahvon was devastated.”
Quinerly subsequently pledged to Jay Wright and Villanova. There was trust between the family and Wright, who had recruited Quinerly out of Hudson Catholic High in New Jersey. Villanova was also close to home, which was important to Mark and Caren after the blowback the family received.
“Jay had been recruiting him for four years,” Mark explained. “Villanova had been around a long time and we were afraid to go into the recruiting process again so we made the decision for him.”
There was also this reality: the lengthy line of coaches recruiting Quinerly, a McDonald’s All-American, had dwindled considerably following the allegations. Quinerly had become a major risk for concerned schools and coaches. But Wright and Villanova did their homework. Sources told Stadium that there was a conversation between the ‘Nova staff and Richardson, in which he repeated his consistent assertion that no money went to the Quinerly family.
Villanova did its own investigation and ultimately cleared Quinerly to play for the Wildcats. But the damage had been done. Mark and Caren say Jahvon was a mess, still upset he wasn’t at Arizona even while being taunted by UA fans for decommitting. Some Villanova fans, who didn’t want the program to take a chance on Quinerly given the rumors, also took shots. Jahvon endured chants from opposing arenas pertaining to the FBI investigation.
Caren Quinerly couldn’t stop looking at social media. She was so obsessed with trying to clear her and her son’s name that she even started putting together a board on the wall – something straight out of the movies — with any evidence she could gather. The family lost friends, and Mark and Caren’s marriage was tested because she couldn’t think about anything else besides trying to clear the family’s name. It got so bad that their youngest son, Julien, wouldn’t admit he was Jahvon’s brother out of embarrassment.
“People looked at us differently, and still do,” Caren said. “I don’t think it’ll ever be the same.”
Caren says she eventually had to be hospitalized due to the impact the allegations had on her health. Meanwhile her son — once considered one of the top point guards in the country — struggled just to get on the court at Villanova. He wound up averaging 3.2 points and 9.1 minutes in 25 games, and didn’t see a single minute of action in the Big East or NCAA tournaments.
“I felt like a cloud was following me,” Jahvon wrote in a letter to the NCAA. “People looking at me in a different way. I was judged off of things people saw on social media rather than getting to know me or who I really am as a person.”
Quinerly, a National Honor Society member in high school, saw his grades plummet. He saw a therapist the second semester of the school year, but it just wasn’t working. He wasn’t happy.
“He just wasn’t in the right state of mind,” Caren said.
“The alumni thought Jay Wright just brought me in to save me,” Quinerly wrote. “They didn’t know that me and my family never took the money. They thought I was not playing because I was guilty. They thought they would have to forfeit games if I played.”
“I never wanted to go to Nova,” he added. “I tried to make ‘Nova work, but I just couldn’t.”
After the season, Quinerly and his family made the decision that Jahvon would transfer. Ex-Buffalo head coach Nate Oats had just landed the Alabama job, and went hard after Quinerly — who felt that Oats’ up-tempo system would be ideal for his game, and that he could also get a fresh start down south in the SEC.
“When I came to Alabama, I just fell in love,” he wrote. “Just being able to walk around campus and people are genuinely nice to you even though they don’t know who you are.”
Quinerly was denied on his initial transfer waiver, but he and his family were optimistic following a teleconference earlier this month, one in which Quinerly displayed emotion seldom seen even by his parents.
“He broke down,” Caren said. “It’s just taken its toll on him and our family. None of this has been in his control and he has been punished for something he didn’t do.”
The NCAA has relaxed its guidelines around granting transfer waivers without the standard one-year hiatus in recent years — more than 70 have been approved this season. The three most common avenues for approval are: egregious behavior by a previous coaching staff, mental health factors, and being “run off” by a previous staff – encouraged to leave the program either directly or via threat of reduced playing time.
Quinerly wasn’t subject to hostile behavior at Vilanova, nor was he run off. The family does believe, however, that Jahvon was subject to mental health issues brought as a result of the allegations that Caren took money from Richardson. One of the D-I Committee for Legislative Relief’s principles stresses “the involvement and the overall well-being of the student-athlete.” The Quinerlys believe Jahvon deserves such consideration.
“My son was stripped of the privilege of choosing the school he wanted to go to,” Mark said. “I feel like he should be allowed to play this year.”
“This one shouldn’t have to fit in a box,” Caren added. “Not after what he has had to go through the last two years.”