On the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, just 72 hours before he was to make his national TV debut against the University of Georgia, Quintin Dailey, a 6'4" junior guard for the University of San Francisco and heretofore college basketball's best-kept secret, was relaxing in his room on the fifth-floor annex of USF's Phelan Hall. His mammoth stereo system turned down low for some mellow sounds, Dailey entertained guests, one of whom was Wanda Burton, his girl friend since high school days back in Baltimore. When Dailey was asked about his collection of 14-karat-gold ear studs, he smiled and then took a small drawstring pouch from a closet. In the pouch were a miniature pirate loop, a lightning bolt, an emerald chip set in gold, a cowboy boot and, appropriately, a tiny star.
In Dailey, who's known as Q, USF has a star of its own—possibly the finest all-around player to wear the emerald-and-gold since Bill Russell. Dailey is the Dons' indispensable man in their quest to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament next March. "If he isn't the best guard in the country, he's awfully close to it," says Scotty Stirling, the director of player personnel for the Golden State Warriors. "He handles the ball well enough to be a lead guard and is big enough to be a second guard. He also has great court sense; he always seems to know where everybody else is on the floor. He just knows when to pass the ball, when to shoot it, when to run with it and when to set up."
Despite such rave reviews, Dailey has failed to receive the publicity usually accorded players of his ability. As a freshman in 1979-80, he led the Dons in scoring (13.6 points a game) and assists (3.4 a game), but USF unfortunately was on NCAA probation at the time, which kept the team out of postseason play and from appearing in any NCAA-controlled television games.
As a sophomore, Dailey averaged 22.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and three assists per game in leading USF to a 24-7 record, a fifth West Coast Athletic Conference title in six years and a fifth NCAA appearance in seven seasons. But the Dons made an ignominious exit in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing 64-60 to Kansas State after blowing a 10-point lead with 10 minutes to play. When the seemingly endless All-America teams were announced, Dailey didn't appear on any of them. Although he can laugh off the obscurity of his freshman season—"Not too many people saw my freshman mistakes," he says—last season was "depressing." There is little wonder why last week's game against the Bulldogs was so significant.
"This game will aid all those people who don't know who Quintin Dailey is," said Peter Barry, the Dons' 33-year-old, second-year coach. "He's the heart of our ballclub. He controls what we're doing on the floor. Night after night, his leadership is impeccable." Indeed, Georgia Coach Hugh Durham, who has his own problems dealing with the highly visible Sam Bowies, Dirk Minniefields and Howard Carters in his own Southeastern Conference, confessed he didn't know just how good Dailey was. On Saturday he got a firsthand look.
What Durham saw was very bad news for the 'Dogs: Dailey scored 39 points, tying his career high, grabbed five rebounds and had three assists as USF won 92-84. But Dailey had to shake off some early jitters—he missed his first six shots from the floor—and at times he seemed to be playing more for CBS than for USF "I was really down on myself for the first half of the game, because here I was on national television and the shots weren't falling," he said. "But I knew they'd fall in the second half."
And fall they did. After the intermission Dailey scored 26 points, including 16 in a nine-minute, 17-second stretch, as the Dons turned a 52-46 deficit into a 72-66 lead. Dailey drove the lane, popped from the perimeter and left the Georgia backcourt frazzled. "He's a great player," Durham said afterward. "Our guards just didn't have the quickness to stay with him."
The youngest of four brothers, Dailey grew up in a Baltimore neighborhood marked by row houses and sporadic outbursts of violent crime. At 13, he was more interested in bowling over opponents as a tight end for the South Baltimore Police Boys Club than he was in blowing by folks in the forecourt. "I was bigger and stronger than most of the guys I played against," he says. He couldn't say the same of his basketball opponents, one of whom was his brother Anthony, a 6'2", 225-pounder who later played football at Army. "My brother and I'd play in a schoolyard with seven-foot baskets," says Dailey. "We played one-on-one to 100, by ones. Anthony would let me get to 99, but I could never win. I'd go out there every day and practice. Then one day I threw in a hook with the score tied at 99, and won. After that I started to enjoy the game."
When Dailey entered Cardinal Gibbons High in 1975, his basketball coach, Ray Mullis, knew he had someone special. "Quintin always played with a certain flourish," says Mullis. "He played tougher than the other kids under pressure. The tougher the situation, the harder he played."
Dailey credits basketball with helping him get through the biggest crisis of his life, the deaths of his mother, Helen, and his father, Harrison Sr., in the spring of 1977. In the fall of 1976, doctors gave his father, who had lung cancer, six months to live. "He was holding his own," Dailey says, "when my mother suddenly became unable to do things for herself. I knew something was wrong." Helen Dailey was battling hypertension.
"I think all the pressure just got to her," Dailey says. She died on March 3, 1977, and Quintin's father died a month later. "I was lonely," Dailey continues. "I never imagined my parents not being there." Basketball became a way of dealing with loneliness. "I worked out so hard at practice," he says. "I worked out my frustrations. I'd get upset and I'd just go play ball. I was in my own little world."
At Cardinal Gibbons, Dailey scored 2,844 points and led the Crusaders to a three-year record of 75-20 and two consecutive Baltimore Catholic League titles. Near the end of his senior year, he moved to the Randallstown, Md. home of Howard and Delores Burton, Wanda's parents. Quintin and Wanda had met the year before, and although the relationship got off to a rocky start, Wanda soon became a sounding board for his frustrations. "I had this serious approach to life and she made me cheer up and enjoy myself," says Dailey. "She has a way of calming me down."
Wanda, who attended the Fashion Institute for Design and Technology in San Francisco, shares Dailey's interest in unusual jewelry. One of her most prized pieces is a 14-karat-gold necklace with a diamond-studded "44" charm. The number Dailey wears for the Dons, right? Well, yes, though the necklace was actually a gift from someone else. "Uncle Reg gave it to me," she says.
He is Uncle Reg to Wanda, but to the world at large he is Reggie Jackson, Delores Burton's baby brother and the rightfielder for the Yankees. "When I found out that Reggie Jackson was her uncle," says Dailey, "I said, 'Big deal.' " But Dailey and Jackson soon developed a close relationship after they met at a Yankee-Oriole game in 1978. "I'll call him up and talk to him if I'm going to do something important," says Dailey. "He's sort of a guardian angel. I like the way he handles pressure. Come pressure time, he's there."
"I'm like a big insurance policy for Quintin," says Jackson. "He always knows that Reggie's on the hill if he needs me. He's like family." In fact, Dailey almost is family, because he and Wanda were recently engaged.
New pressures will build when time comes for Dailey to decide whether to return to school next year or to turn pro. The scouts say he's ready to step into a starting NBA backcourt right now. Although Dailey says he wants to get his college degree (in communications), something he promised his mother shortly before her death, his decision next spring will be based on how far the Dons advance in NCAA play. "If we get close, but don't win it, I'll have to wait and see who we're recruiting before making up my mind," he says. "If I have some doubt that we can go any further after this season, I'll leave. If not, then I'll come back."
"We would love to see Q stay here at USF," says Barry, in a colossal understatement. "He has a great rapport with the community. The big question is whether or not he can wait long enough for the megabucks."
No doubt Uncle Reg can give some firsthand advice on that subject.