Why Memphis basketball's Lester Quinones didn't transfer — and his thoughts on Emoni Bates, Jalen Duren

Jason Munz
Memphis Commercial Appeal
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When Lester Quinones arrived in Memphis more than two years ago, he was billed as the 3-point shooting specialist in a landmark seven-member recruiting class.

A lot has changed. The 6-foot-5 guard, still as effective as ever beyond the arc (48.5% from over the final month of his sophomore season), contributes much more to the cause. In the final eight games of his sophomore season, Quinones averaged 10.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists a game, shooting 47% from the floor. He is also one of two players — the other is Memphis native Malcolm Dandridge — from that ballyhooed group still on the roster.

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“I feel like my parents (considered me transferring) at one point,” Quinones said. “But it really just goes back to the way my parents raised me — just being loyal. I feel like I made a commitment to the city, to the fans and to (coach) Penny (Hardaway) that I was going to come here. So, we felt like it was best for me and my situation to stay here. I’m glad I stayed. I feel like great things can happen here.”

Quinones, during a recent interview with The Commercial Appeal, discussed these subjects, as well as a range of other topics.

Story continues below links and photo gallery. 

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On the make-up of the team

“It’s just more comfortable for me now. When I came in, Isaiah Maurice was our only senior. We didn’t really have any experience. This year, we have (DeAndre Williams), he’s a senior. A-Lo (Alex Lomax) is a senior. Chandler (Lawson), he’s a transfer. We have me, we have Landers (Nolley II), we have Tyler (Harris), we have Malcolm. That’s the group that when things go wrong, we can say we’ve seen that before and we’re not gonna let that happen again. ‘Let’s lock in and get on the same page.’ Because I feel like my first year, when things were kind of rattled, even Penny a little bit, we wouldn’t know what to do sometimes. But, this year, Penny is 1000% prepared. We’re 1000% prepared.”

On strength and conditioning

“I see myself getting stronger. I feel like my athleticism is back. I’m dunking way more. I’ve really just been focusing on that and my explosiveness. (New strength coach Robb Hornett), he emphasized to me that I was his project kind of. I mean, I told him I wanted to be a pro, so he told me he’s gonna push me to do what it takes to be a pro. The big thing is really working on stuff so I can stay healthy. I feel like just focusing on all those little knick-knack injuries I had that stopped me from being at 100%, that’s what (Hornett) has been focusing on. Like, stuff with my knees and my back and my ankle mobility, that’s just showing great improvement and I’m getting faster, stronger and jumping higher.”

Memphis Tigers guard Lester Quinones works out with his teammates at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.

On his tattoos

“These are the two newest ones. This one says ‘Shed blood to succeed’ and I got a new ‘Joker’ (the Joaquin Phoenix version) tattoo on the inside (of my right biceps). ‘Joker’ is my favorite movie of all-time probably. I’ve probably watched that movie like 1,000 times. (On the left arm), it’s kind of like a Bible verse with some doves and stuff and another Bible verse with a basketball. I got those my freshman year and they were my first ones. Me and my mom (Laura) have a matching one on our wrist. It says ‘Faith, hope and love.’ (On my right leg), I’ve got Michael Jackson, my favorite artist of all-time. Then, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X on the back. That was for my grandma and my dad. Growing up, especially around Black History Month, they would get me to watch stuff on that when I was a kid. In the beginning, they forced me to watch it. But, as I got older and realized the meaning behind it, I kind of got more interested in it. So, I started watching some movies and documentaries on Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement and I read some of his books. So I said, ‘Let’s add that and make a little Black History piece going around my leg.’ I might get Jimi Hendrix here with a little guitar. That might be my next one.”

On NIL

“Ever since that rule passed, my pops (Lester Quinones Sr.) called me and told me I have to lock in more with really protecting my image. Like, posting and reposting certain things on my Instagram and Snapchat. My dad said now people are really gonna be watching everything I post and everything I do.

“I have some (NIL deals) working, but nothing (finalized) at the moment.

“I feel like we deserve it. We deserve more money with the amount of work we put in, with our practices, weights and you still have to go to class and do homework. I feel like we’ve kind of earned (the opportunity to make money in college). Especially when we’re playing in FedExForum, where it’s 18,000 every single night. I feel like we’re bringing that crowd in there.”

On the origin of his air-guitar

“I came on my official visit when (Memphis) played UCF (in the 2018-19 AAC Tournament). I think that was the game where Isaiah Maurice hit like four (3-pointers). And he was doing it after each one, so I said, ‘I like that. I’m gonna start doing that.’ I did it one game and the fans started doing it, so it just stuck with me.”

Memphis Tigers guard Lester Quinones celebrates a made 3-pointer against Georgia during their game at the FedExForum on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.

On Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren

“Both of them, for sure, (are the real deal). And, how they’re looking at their age, it’s crazy to me. Because, going back to when all of us were their age, we looked nothing like them. These guys are looking like grown men now. Both of them have lived up to the hype in my eyes.

“Jalen is so dominant running the floor, catching everything. I feel like he’s a little more advanced. He really doesn’t play like a freshman. With Jalen on defense, I feel like a lot of people going down there, it’s going to be a problem for them with him stepping up. With Jalen on the offensive side, his hands are just so huge. We called him ‘Kawhi’ the other day because his hands are so huge. He catches everything around the rim – offensive rebounds, offensive putbacks. But I feel like what’s underrated about him is his screening. He’s an excellent screener, off and on the ball. He’s just hitting guys with his size and rolling to the rim, really spreading out the lane.

Memphis Tigers center Jalen Duren dunks the ball during their first official practice, which they held in front of fans from the Rebounders Club at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.

“With Emoni using his length on defense and him saying he’s going to play point guard, so he’ll be guarding ones, I feel like it’s going to be tough for teams to run offense around him. Offensively, his ability to just come off, not even running a play, to get to his spot and shoot whatever shot he wants and make that over somebody – that’s high level. That’s something you don’t see at the college level. Somebody his size, 6-9, is just coming down, pulling up and shooting over you. That’s going to help us run the play easier, because the next time he comes down, they’re going to think he’s going to shoot. But we run the play and get a play out of that.”

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at [email protected] or on Twitter @munzly.

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