Jahvon Quinerly says he doesn't really check the comments, which might be true, though how can he not?
On Instagram, his jelllyjq account boasts more than 440,000 followers, among them NBA stars like Kevin Durant, who has gushed over Quinerly’s dazzling handles and athleticism. Each time Quinerly posts, praise—usually in the form of grape emojis—follows.
He admits that he is aware of what goes down online. Rappers like Montana of 300, A$AP Twelvyy and Gunna—“He put mad fire emojis,” Quinerly says—and hoopers like Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Allen Iverson have all showed him love.
“I freaked out when, like, Allen Iverson commented on my picture one time,” Quinerly says. “You gotta freak out when someone like that comments.”
Just how deep he goes into the comments, he won’t say. But as he sits in a classroom-style room inside the Davis Center—where the Villanova Wildcats congregate to watch film, hang out and eat—it’s clear Quinerly is at least moderately interested to know what people are saying.
Not about him, however; rather, he’s curious about an Instagram post of Jalen Lecque, who was attempting a “jelly,” the finger roll that Quinerly and his crew, Jelly Fam, a collective of former high school basketball players from the New York-New Jersey area, popularized a few years ago.
“Best jelly of the summer?” the caption on Lecque’s post reads.
“No, definitely not,” he replies in his low voice. Dressed in a gray T-shirt and sweats, he leans forward in his seat, bringing his round face closer to the phone. His brown eyes home in on the video playing on loop, the dimpled smirk on his face slowly fades. His expression becomes critical and serious, as if examining the jelly through a mental microscope. The arc of the ball, how it slightly kisses the rim on its way in. The body control.
When he finally looks up from the screen, his lips curve back into a smirk. Though he doesn’t approve, he’s not trippin’. It’s not that deep, he insists, and certainly not for the homie.
“That’s my boy, though,” he says. “I thought he was going to dunk it.”
Quinerly puts down the phone and demonstrates the different types of jellys: a breakaway, a reverse and another one he describes as “iconic.” He reaches his hand to the back of his head, his elbow pointed up, and flicks his wrist while rolling his fingers.
Quinerly’s iconic jelly is the stuff of legend—and it is, in part, what earned him his reputation as a skillful guard oozing with creativity and pizazz. At the prep level, he was a two-time New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, a McDonald's All-American and an Iverson Classic standout.
But now that he is at Villanova, Quinerly is primed and itching to show that he is more than his signature move or an internet celebrity. “Some people judge me off of Instagram and mixtapes...people that watch my mixtapes and think I just lay the ball up,” he says. “There’s so much more to my game, and I’m working on a bunch of stuff now that hopefully I can showcase this season, like my jump shot, my defense.”
Since becoming a Wildcat, Quinerly has been working tirelessly and in silence to fit the mold.
“Don’t let people know you’re grinding,” Quinerly says. “They’ll find out when they find out.”
Quinerly is only a freshman, but many expect him to make an immediate impact. That he joined a team that won two national championships under the tutelage of a high-profile coach only heightens the expectations of what he will do. He’s next in the long line of talented Wildcats who have left to play in the NBA, including: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman. Brunson was the Naismith College Player of the Year last season, and with him gone, Quinerly is expected to replace him as the point guard.
That’s no small responsibility. Villanova senior guard Phil Booth says the difficulty lies in communicating effectively. “As a point guard, the most important thing is you need to talk,” he says. “JB did that last year, as our leader. He was very good at keeping everyone on the same page. … JQ has a very well-known presence and draws a lot of attention from people: how creative and crafty he is with the ball. He’s very well-liked and is definitely doing whatever it takes to become a Villanova basketball player, like the rest of us.”
Head coach Jay Wright does not expect Quinerly to be the next Brunson, nor does he think he should be. “I don’t want him to feel the responsibility to fill those shoes,” he says. “His situation coming in is so different than Jalen’s.” The two guards, in his estimation, compare in some ways but diverge in others. “[Jalen] was really crafty and physical and methodical; Jahvon is fast, quick and flashy. They’re similar in that they both are very committed, serious basketball players, but I really want to make sure that he never feels like he [Jahvon] has to fill those shoes because they are so different.”
What has impressed Wright—what has him so excited—is Quinerly’s strong desire to learn. It’s one thing to have talent; it’s another to realize potential. “He could really separate himself as a unique Villanova point guard,” Wright told me. “His work ethic every day, his commitment to showing in every drill, every practice that he wants to do it the Villanova way.”
While he proudly reps Jelly Fam, Quinerly knows that he is a part of a new Fam now. At Villanova, he must assimilate by learning to dominate on both ends of the floor. “That’s where he’s impressed everyone the most,” Wright adds. “He’s got all of the skills and physical attributes to be an incredible defensive player. I can’t think of one with that kind of speed and quickness.”
Quinerly admits: “I feel like I have to prove myself, that I can play at this level. I didn’t just come here [Villanova] because they won a national championship. I came here because I was going to grow as a player and I knew Jay [Wright] knows what it takes.”
Quinerly grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey. He started playing basketball at the age of seven and fell in love with the sport during his frequent outings to the Hackensack Rec Center. By middle school, in 2013, he had developed a crafty set of handles, mixed with his natural toughness and speed. He attended St. Benedict's Preparatory School, which runs grades seven through 12, but as a player on the younger end of the spectrum, he struggled to find a way to showcase his talent. He and his best friend, Ohio State guard Luther Muhammad, weren’t allowed to practice with the older kids—an accommodation, Quinerly says, typically made “when you’re good in middle school.”
“We went [to the school] early so that we could grow into and be a part of the high school team, and they looked over us,” Quinerly says of the St. Benedict's Prep high school coaches. “They did not know who we were, and that discouraged me at the time.”
Arthur H. Pierson Jr., the associate head coach at St. Benedict's, remembers the situation well. “Personally, as a coach, I made one of the biggest mistakes by not letting him practice with the varsity as a seventh grader,” he wrote in an email.
Quinerly recalls that one day after middle school practice, he was “kicked out of the gym.”
“At the time, Isaiah Briscoe [Orlando Magic] and Tyler Ennis [Canadian pro]—they were trying to vouch for us, saying, ‘we should let them work out, they can run with us,’” he says. “But the coaches would be like: ‘Nah. Get out.’”
Quinerly would continue to look for ways to run with the varsity squad for another year. He hoped to get some time against starting point guard Trevon Duval, who is now a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. “Jayvon was chopping at the bit every day to practice,” Pierson Jr. wrote. “I would not let him practice. What a mistake that was! We had one of the best young up-and-coming point guards and unfortunately, he participated [in] basketball [at] another school High School.”
Quinerly knew he had to prove himself elsewhere. So that summer he ran with his squad, Team Izod, on the middle school AAU circuit. He showed out, hitting a buzzer-beater against nationally ranked We All Can Go, which featured Marvin Bagley and Darius Garland. Soon thereafter, he and Muhammad enrolled at Hudson Catholic Regional High School in Jersey City. “We were like, ‘We gotta go do our own thing,’” Quinerly told me.
The move was stressful. He was only entering ninth grade but already felt the weight of his ambitious future. He knew he wanted to become a top-ranked player but at the time was unsure if it really was going to happen.
“I remember being very nervous to enter high school because I did not know what to expect,” he says. “I was seeing kids pick up Division I offers right before my eyes, so I was thinking to myself: Obviously this is what I want to do. But am I going to be able to do this? Am I going to be a Division I basketball player? Or are these going to be the last four years I play?”
His new coaches at Hudson Catholic sensed the pressure he was feeling. “As talented as he was at a very young age, the transition from grammar school to high school is like starting over again,” says Nick Marinello, Hudson Catholic’s head coach. “There were things he had to learn. He had to get assimilated to the program.” The two met frequently to attempt to plot out Quinerly’s path. “We always [would] talk about the next level. He’s [an] extremely gifted basketball player, has a very, very high basketball IQ and is a very good student of the game,” Marinello says.
Before his freshman season, Quinerly and Hudson Catholic traveled to Villanova to play in a basketball camp. Quinerly’s on-court skills immediately caught the notice of Wright.
“He was little dude,” Wright remembers, “but right away, he was on our radar as a unique guy. He was an A student and a really talented basketball player. If you find that in ninth grade, you can tell that he was different.”
Former Wildcats Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart (now with German club Eisbären Bremerhaven and the Los Angeles Lakers, respectively) were impressed too.
“They were gassing the game up every time I got the ball,” Quinerly says with a smirk.
He carried that momentum into his freshman season, averaging 10 points and 2.1 assists per game as sixth man. That summer, he competed on the AAU circuit for Sports U Team Izod, and the hype continued.
“I was playing with [dudes like] Nassir Reed, Luther Muhammad, [dudes] I’ve been playing with since seventh grade, but this is our first summer on the AAU high school circuit,” Quinerly says. “We were such a good team, and that’s when all of the offers started coming in. Villanova actually was one of the first teams to offer me.”
Though he grew up in Jersey, Quinerly itched to build his reputation across the Hudson, in New York City. Every weekend, he would cross the bridge to play in tournaments and pickup games—anywhere he could find more competition. Something about the city’s DNA brought out the best in him. “You can’t play soft, because then you’ll get exposed,” he says. “You have to cross the bridge and really bring your game. Show that toughness, show you’re not a weak link on the floor.”
He befriended players like Isaiah Washington, now a guard at Minnesota, and Ja’Quaye James, who together named their group Jelly Fam. They invited other members to join, such as Jordan Walker, who recently transferred from Seton Hall to Tulane.They looked to jelly everywhere they played. “We were playing [in Rucker Park]. Jordan Walker and I were going at it in front of a big crowd. I had done a 360 layup on him, and the park shut down for 10 minutes,” Quinerly says. “Literally, [everyone] running around the court was going crazy. I been jelly-ing since we started.”
Whenever the Jelly Fam took the court, people gorged over their style and flare. Fans flooded parks and high school gyms to see them play. On social media, jelly highlight videos proliferated and spread rapidly. Before long, Jelly Fam was internationally known, much to the delight of the grape emoji gawds.
Meanwhile, Quinerly earned the starting point guard spot at Hudson Catholic his sophomore year, and by his junior season, he was averaging 20.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game. As Quinerly’s profile rose—he became a 5-star recruit, played in the Adidas Gauntlet, earned Under Armour Association All-American MVP honors and was selected to the Stephen Curry 30 Camp—so did his notoriety on social media. His highlight mixtapes garnered millions of views on YouTube. His IG account gained on average about 1,000 followers a day. People all around the world, from New York to Dubai, slid into his DMs. His account soon became blue-check verified. His mentions got so crazy that he disabled his notifications. (His senior year, more than 70,000 people liked his post announcing that he had committed to Villanova.) His real friends had to text him if they wanted to send him things or comment.
The love didn’t just come online. It followed him IRL too. One time, Quinerly was sitting in the food court at his local mall in Jersey, with his family, eating at his favorite restaurant, Chipotle, like any normal teenager. His order: extra rice, double chicken, mild, with cheese, a little sour cream and guac. A crowd flocked to his table, phones in their hands, screaming JQ! JELLY JQ!
“That’s when I was like, ‘This is getting a little crazy,” Quinerly said.
This past June, fans packed into Dyckman Park in Washington Heights, hoping to catch jelllyjq in person. The air was humming with excitement. Terry Rozier had put on a show the week before. Drake’s “We Made It” blasted through the speakers as Quinerly strolled onto the green court and donned a pristine, white Dyckman No. 8 jersey. Fans dangled over the barricades that encompassed the court. As Quinerly warmed up, knocking down jumpers, chants of “JQ! Jelly! Jelly! Aye, yo Jahvon!” pierced the hot, humid air.
It felt like a homecoming. “I’m used to the crowd gassing a matchup between me and somebody else. I’m used to the loud roars after a play,” he told me.
He dropped a smooth 35 points that night on a combination of creative drives and pull-up jumpers. As he did, his teammate, Villanova forward Eric Paschall, shouted his approval from the sidelines. On one occasion, Quinerly took his defender with a swift jab and three crossover dribbles, catching him off balance before shooting a three-pointer in his face. On another, he baited a different defender with a shot fake before dropping a dime to an open teammate under the basket.
But it was Quinerly’s signature move that made the park explode. After splitting two defenders, he took flight, flicking his wrist to put enough spin on the ball to kiss it sweetly off the glass.
Quinerly’s jelly is a marvel. Which is why, since arriving on campus, he’s been encouraged by his team, and coaches, to build on it. Adapt it. Make it even more potent.
“There’s a lot to Jelly that’s actually technically effective as a player,” Wright says. “We practice all of the different takeoff situations, and he happens to be really good at that already because it’s a part of Jelly. … That’s the learning process for him: how to utilize it so that it’s really effective for him finishing at the rim, as opposed to being a show for fans. That is the balance.”
Quinerly sees value in finding that balance—getting to the basket and finishing, yes. But also focusing on the fundamentals. He followed a strict routine during the summer: 6 a.m. lifts, shootarounds and two classes to get a jump academically (he hopes to earn a business degree). He bonded with teammates Phil Booth and Paschall and assistant coach Mike Nardi, a former Villanova guard and Jersey native. All have been impressed with what they’ve seen so far.
“He’s very gifted with what he can do with the ball,” Booth says. “He doesn’t like to lose. He knows how to turn up to another level when the game gets going.”
Wright is optimistic of what the work will yield. “He’s got the best lateral quickness on the team, the best speed,” he says. “He’s fast, quick and flashy. … We’ve had a lot of great point guards, like Kyle Lowry is an NBA All-Star, but we’ve never had one with [Jahvon’s] skill and creativity.”
All this work has mainly taken place offline. Quinerly says he hasn’t been showing a lot about his new life on the Gram as of late. He is still adjusting—that means trying to find balance between his public persona and private life. At summer’s end, he jetted off to California with his younger brother Jaden, ditching the concrete jungle for West Coast beaches. He hinted at his whereabouts when he posted a photo of himself flexin' in front of a huge, golden Travis Scott head. It was from a listening party at Six Flags for Travis Scott’s album Astroworld. (“Carousel” is “tough,” he says, though “Can’t Say” is his favorite track.)
“There’s a side of me I don’t really show. Like I’m funny, I can be a clown sometimes. I don’t really show that on Instagram. I like for people to come find that out themselves.”
The fame from Jelly Fam, he says, has helped him accrue influence—“I’m fortunate to have that type of recognition,” he says—but it has also had ripple effects on his younger brothers, Jaden, 16, and Julien, 10, who also play basketball. “I know people go at you because of me,” he recalls telling them, “but it’s just going to make you stronger in the end, really.”
He would know. His own humble beginnings are represented through the tattoos he shows me on his arm. He has the letters N and J tattooed to represent New Jersey. There’s a grape to represent Jelly Fam. “Yeah, I branded myself,” he says. “It means something to me.” There’s also a wolf biting a basketball to symbolize loyalty, guardianship, spirit and faith. His mom’s name, Carenina, is there too.
The most striking of all of his body art is a quote, which was sent to him by his mom. It takes up the majority of his forearm.
Humble enough to know I’m not better than everybody, and wise enough to know I’m different than the rest.
It symbolizes not only who he is but also who he wants to become.
“There’s so much more to my game, so much more I bring to the table,” he says. “I’m more than just a layup.”
Deyscha Smith is a writer based in Boston. She is finishing her journalism studies at Mount Holyoke College. Follow Deyscha on Twitter @deyschasmith.