NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Prior to the University of Alabama's opening round game in the 2021 SEC men's basketball Tournament on Friday against Mississippi State, coach Nate Oats had a challenge for guard Jahvon Quinerly.
"I told him, 'They might have screwed you on Sixth Man of the Year but let's go win the tournament MVP,'" Oats told the media following the Crimson Tide's thrilling 80-79 victory over LSU inside Bridgestone Arena to clinch the school's seventh conference tournament title.
During the post-game ceremony on the floor, Quinerly accomplished that task with three straight games of stellar play where he averaged 15.6 points, three assists, 2.6 rebounds and shot 46.1 percent from three-point range (6-of-13) and 57.5 percent from the field overall (19-of-33).
As the team's primary ball-handler when he is on the floor, he only had four combined turnovers in all three games.
Against LSU, he poured in 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists, to go along with three three-pointers.
"It means a lot," Quinerly said. "I've been through a lot these last couple years. Being blessed to be named the MVP of the tournament, it's just a blessing. I'm just so happy my family got to watch in-person.
"All credit to my teammates. Without them, I wouldn't have really won it. Just the confidence that they put in me. We just all believe in each other. This is a great group of guys.
"The feeling is — I can't really explain it. It's an amazing feeling."
Quinerly has a long and windy road to end up in Tuscaloosa, from originally committing to Arizona then being named in a FBI probe into college basketball, eventually landing at Villanova where he played only one season and averaged 9.1 minutes a game.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound point guard and former McDonald's All-American was forced to sit out the 2019-2020 season after transferring to the Crimson Tide and having his name cleared from all investigations.
"Happy for Quinerly," Oats added. "Really happy for his family. Saw them up in the stands. His mom was crying. They've been through so much. Really glad he played well on a huge stage, to show what he's about."
On the year, Quinerly is the Crimson Tide's second leading scorer at 12.6 points and shot 50 percent from beyond-the-arc in conference play. The majority of his damage to opposing defenses has come after he accepted the team's sixth-man role back at the beginning of SEC play back on Dec. 29 against Ole Miss, when he dropped a season-high 24 points.
Originally being from Hackensack, N.J., his parents haven't being able to watch him in-person for most of the year so that added to the emotion on Sunday afternoon in Nashville.
"[His parents] were never concerned about how he's being utilized or any of that stuff," Oats said. "I called them to get help on how to coach him to make sure I was getting the most out of him. We had a great conversations. They're the parents you don't have to worry about. They're never questioning the coach, none of that. Their dad is a Jersey cop. I love him. He's a man's man. I mean, if he needs to have a talk with Jahvon, he's going to have a talk with Jahvon.
"Jahvon's got some toughness about him. He's got that Jersey toughness. He'll play in there, fight a little bit. Pretty scrappy. We had great conversations all year. They were so happy. I gave mom a hug up there in the stands. She just kept thanking us for giving him a chance. The kids thanked us for giving him a shot. Shoot, I'm thanking them for trusting us with their son. He's been great for us all year."
No. 6 Alabama and Quinerly now await who it will play in the 2021 NCAA tournament which starts on March 19. After being crowned SEC regular season and tournament champions, Quinerly believes greater things are in store for this Crimson Tide team.
"I have full faith that we can take this thing, take the NCAA tournament by storm, win the whole thing," Quinerly said. "I know how hard we work. I know we have one of the — we have the best coaching staff in the country who just prepares us each and every game. I have full faith if we lock in and do what we got to do, we'll be crowned again.
"There's more work to be done."