How Alabama basketball's Jahvon Quinerly made a remarkable early return from ACL tear

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

When Jahvon Quinerly fell to the Viejas Arena floor on March 18, it looked bad immediately.

The Alabama basketball point guard was grimacing and holding his knee, not even four minutes into the NCAA Tournament matchup vs. Notre Dame. Two members of the staff had to help Quinerly off the court. He was almost immediately ruled out of the game with what was later revealed to be a torn ACL.

The upperclassman had gone through senior day and appeared set to pursue the next step in his basketball career. Then the ACL tear derailed those plans, and Quinerly decided to return to college basketball for one more season. But when would he even be able to play?

In the offseason, Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said the team hoped Quinerly would be back by SEC play, which starts in late December.

Yet, when No. 16 Alabama beat South Alabama 65-55 in its third game of the season on Nov. 15, Quinerly checked into the game with about eight minutes left in the second half.

It took him only 243 days to be healthy enough to play in a live basketball game again.

"It was a lot of early mornings, long nights, wouldn’t have been able to do it without our trainer Clark (Holter) and my strength coach Henry (Barrera)," Quinerly said Tuesday night. "Those guys took a lot of time out of their lives to help me get back early, and no, I didn’t think I would be back this early. It’s just a testament to the work that we put in."

The success began with the surgery. Dr. Lyle Cain in Birmingham, whom Oats called one of the best doctors in the country, operated on Quinerly. Then the point guard began working with Holter, about whom Oats also raved. Holter was with Quinerly and others rehabbing at 6 a.m., as Quinerly worked on his rehab, including the underwater treadmill.

Meanwhile, Barrera worked with Quinerly on the side, all the way back to the summer. With these village-like efforts, Quinerly kept improving, and fast.

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"We were hoping to get him back by Michigan State (on Thanksgiving)," Oats said. "Then he just kept pushing the envelope. He’s been on the practice squad the last couple of weeks, being a scout player."

Teammate Nimari Burnett, who missed last season while recovering from his own knee injury, said he could tell Quinerly was revving up recently. Burnett was impressed by how Quinerly "blew through" the process.

"Just to see how hard he worked, his attention to detail and focus throughout the whole process," Burnett said, "you could tell he was really hungry."

On Monday night, Oats decided to have a talk with Quinerly as Alabama prepared for its game against the Jaguars.

"'What are we waiting on?'" Oats asked Quinerly. "I see him getting after our guys in practice every day."

Then Oats made a proposition. If Alabama needed a spark late vs. South Alabama, Oats would put him in. Or, if the Crimson Tide got up 20 and it had a chance to let Quinerly get his feet wet, it would give him the green light to play.

Alabama had that 20-point lead in the second half, so in Quinerly went.

He was back.

Quinerly, in his third season with the program, played only four minutes and missed both shots he took, but his stepping foot on the court was a victory in itself. He's going to be on a minutes restriction for a few weeks, Oats said. But once the guard gets more confidence back, Quinerly will aim to return to the form that helped him win SEC Tournament most outstanding player in 2021.

"My plans for last season, obviously I was planning on taking that next step and unfortunately, I tore my ACL," Quinerly said. "I kind of had to role with the punches. It’s an amazing feeling being around this young team and seeing these guys every day and being able to kind of be that leader and be that veteran voice. It’s a really good feeling man. This is my family here."