On Thursday, San Diego State will march into Honda Center to face top seed Arizona in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Aqeel Quinn is always smiling. But when you ask him to recall the late spring of 2012, his smile disappears. It was a time when the 6-foot-3 guard, with so much optimism, was met with a great deal of skepticism.
"My mom was supporting me," Quinn said. "I know from everybody else, including my high school coach, friends, they were like ‘What are you doing? You’re crazy, you’re tripping.’
"What’s life without taking a risk?"
After his sophomore season at Cal State Northridge, Quinn asked for his release.
He wasn’t sure where he would end up, but looked toward San Diego State where he had a relationship with then-assistant coach Tony Bland and forward Dwayne Polee II, a friend since the fifth grade, who’d recently transferred in from St. John’s.
I didn’t even know Aqeel Quinn when he transferred. Somebody knew somebody who knew Tony Bland and he transferred in. No scholarship, no promises.
SDSU head coach Steve Fisher
Quinn stayed with Polee II for a couple of weekends and worked out with the team during open run sessions, proving he could compete at their level.
"When he came to open gym, me and him were going at it," San Diego State senior guard Xavier Thames said. "(We were) going back and forth."
Even though San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher only slightly opened the door, Quinn’s decision was made. He was going to be an Aztec.
"I didn’t even know Aqeel Quinn when he transferred," Fisher said. "Somebody knew somebody who knew Tony Bland and he transferred in. No scholarship, no promises."
Added Quinn: "Coming from L.A., you play against everybody — all the top competition. You know, I played against Russ (Russell Westbrook), James Harden, DeMar (DeRozan), all these guys. I felt like I was good enough to play on the highest level."
His mother and great grandmother helped him out with groceries while he took out two loans to walk on to the team as a redshirt last season.
"It was rough," Quinn said. "It was definitely rough, sometimes. I was like ‘Why did I do this?’ I, kind of, questioned myself a little bit."
On the floor he fought through all the uncertainty to prove he could be a valuable piece for the Aztecs going forward.
"His whole first year he was here he worked his tail off," Polee II said.
Last summer Fisher called him into his office to tell him he would be putting him on scholarship.
"At first I was like ‘Yes. I made it. I’m here,’ " Quinn recalled. "Then I felt like there was more work to be done. I didn’t want to come in this year and be sitting on the bench. I knew I could contribute and that’s what Iâm doing now."
On Thursday, San Diego State will march into Honda Center to face top seed Arizona in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. It’s a team San Diego State is familiar with, having lost to the Wildcats earlier this season and it’s a venue Quinn is familiar with going back to his high school days, teaming up with Delon Wright (Utah) and Amir Garrett (formerly of St. John’s but currently a redshirt at Cal State Northridge) while leading Leuzinger to their first CIF title in school history.
Now in his first season on the floor for the Aztecs the risk has paid off. Quinn is fourth on the team in assists and averaging 5.2 points in just over 16 minutes per game for San Diego State in its quest to survive in March, answering all the skeptics who said his decision to transfer to San Diego State was a bad one.
"It worked out for the best," Quinn said.
And now the redshirt junior guard has a whole lot more to smile about these days.
"He’s just like Nick Young of the Lakers," Thames said. "He’s always smiling but that’s his personality. He’s always bringing energy to the team. That’s what we need from him. That’s what he’s been doing all year but he is always smiling like Swaggy P."