It was the seven-word Instagram post that shocked the Villanova basketball world, a brief utterance from highly touted freshman Jahvon Quinerly that expressed his frustration with not playing, and had most of his more than 30,000 social media followers predicting his transfer.
“Was my 2nd choice for a reason,” he wrote after playing just five seconds in the Wildcats’ 78-75 loss to Penn on Dec. 11, a post he quickly took down and apologized for.
The much-hyped five-star recruit out of Hudson Catholic High School in North Jersey -- who had committed to Arizona but reopened his recruitment after the coach who secured his pledge was arrested in a federal investigation of college basketball corruption -- was confused and frustrated about the difficulty of becoming part of ‘Nova’s substitution rotation.
He said he spent the summer and the preseason “trying to create the habits of being a Villanova basketball player,” and thought he was doing well. The result, however, was four missed games in the first 12, including the Wildcats’ contest at Kansas in a Final Four rematch that took place four days after the post.
Looking back on it more than a month later, Quinerly said it was difficult to comprehend what was happening, but he emphasized he never planned to transfer.
“I want to say I didn’t understand why I was playing at first,” he said last week before a practice at Finneran Pavilion. “That’s why it was so hard. I thought preseason went well so … I was kind of like, how can I say it? I was blindsided that I wasn’t playing. That’s how I’ll put it.
“It was definitely hard, but I’m never the type to give up on something. All the rumors about ‘he’s going to transfer’ and all that, that was never really the case. I was never the type to quit on something, so I just knew that this was the situation I’m in, this is the school I chose, this was the school that me and my family knew was comfortable for me, so I’ve just got to keep fighting through this.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said the concern with highly recruited players is how they handle the challenge of not being a star right away.
“The severity of that challenge is based on: how much do you play?” he said. “With him not playing at all in some games, it was crushing for him. As a coaching staff, you’re very understanding of it. You try to teach them, it’s all about how they handle it. You know they’re going to be a good player eventually. It’s how do you handle those times when you’re not there yet.
“I thought he really handled it great. It was a shame, that one little (Instagram) thing, it was a slip. It was more a function of reacting to a question than really being disrespectful to his teammates, but it comes out that way.
"But we all kind of knew that. We had seen the work he was putting in, we had seen how he handled everything. We saw how he stayed positive on the bench. So it wasn’t that big of a deal within the program, but we knew it looked like one. We’re really proud of how he’s handled it.
“He’s continuing to improve every day. We’re very pleased with him. We just have to hold him to the standards that we hold everybody else to, and he gets that, he really does.”
The 6-foot-1 Quinerly has played in each of Villanova’s last six games, averaging 5.3 points and 1.5 assists in 14.0 minutes. That stretch began with his best performance of the season when he went for 10 points and four assists in 25 minutes against Connecticut, playing in front of family and friends at Madison Square Garden.
Quinerly described his play that game as “a great feeling,” but he dismissed the idea that it served as a confidence boost.
“I never lost confidence, even though I wasn’t playing,” he said. “I always know what I’m capable of and I never lose sight of that. So going out there, it just felt good being able to play through little struggles. I just felt good kind of having Coach’s trust out there and playing for my teammates.”
Quinerly appreciates the support he continues to get from his teammates and coaches. He said amid all the responses he received from his December Instagram post, the only people he reached out to were family, former Villanova players such as JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu, and his roommate, senior co-captain Eric Paschall.
“I was just looking for people that had been through what I was going through,” he said. “It was all supportive, all good stuff that helped me just keep trying to go, trying to be the best Villanova basketball player I could be, gaining the coaches’ trust, things like that.”
Of course, part of the learning process under Wright is defense, and Quinerly said he’s come a long way in that area from high school. He said he’s feeling more confident with his on-the-ball defense and keeps working hard on his off-the-ball defense. Wright said Quinerly’s incredible quickness makes him potentially one of the team’s best defenders.
Offensively, he continues to work on his shooting (40.7 percent overall, 25.0 percent from three-point range). Overall, however, he is feeling more comfortable on the court.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film with the coaches,” he said. “I’ve been trying to pick my spots well and learn effective ways to score within our offense and playing off our concepts. I’m creating those habits – jump-stopping, coming off handoffs, going hard 100 percent. I feel like it’s paying off.