CHICAGO — Quinton Chievous believes in the madness of March.
The Chicago native's Hampton squad is the ultimate Cinderella story, as the 16th-seeded Pirates (16-17) became the ninth sub-.500 team since 2000 to reach the NCAA tourney after winning the MEAC tournament title.
Chievous and the Pirates beat Manhattan in a play-in game Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, to advance to face No. 1 overall seed Kentucky on Thursday.
"Our mentality going in is to win as many games as possible," Chievous said Sunday. "Anyone can win in March. You see everybody getting upset nowadays."
Justin Breen explains the heavy odds facing Chievous and his team:
Chievous' road to the NCAAs has been filled with many twists, turns and detours. He grew up in Lincoln Park, Logan Square and Sauganash with his mother, Michelle Cole, and spent a few years with his father, former NBA player Derrick Chievous, in Columbia, Mo., where the elder Chievous remains the University of Missouri's all-time leading scorer.
Derrick Chievous said his son is a rec league legend in Columbia, but he wouldn't allow Quinton to play on an organized team because he was getting in constant trouble during the four years he lived there as a young teenager. Before Quinton's sophomore year of high school, he decided to return to Chicago and transfer to Notre Dame College Prep. The move, Quinton said, was for academic, personal and athletic reasons.
"Going to Notre Dame helped me get a lot of discipline," Quinton Chievous said. "You go from a predominantly black public school where there's a lot of drama to a mostly all-white private school. That's a lot of change, but it helped mold me into the person I am today."
Said Derrick Chievous: "For me, I was heartbroken that he left, and it caught me off guard, but he felt it was the best decision for him. When he was down here, he could never be himself. It was always, Derrick this, Derrick that. Here he didn't have to produce; they basically give him keys to the car."
That wasn't the case at Notre Dame, where Quinton was under the watchful and persistent eye of several Dons teachers and coaches, including former hoops assistant coach Tom Mocogni. Quinton started on varsity for three seasons, but only because he also focused on his grades and keeping out of trouble, Mocogni said.
"He had a hard time adjusting at the beginning, and he had his fair share of detentions, but he came around," said Mocogni, now an assistant coach at Lake Forest High School. "Quinton grew in that he was a very raw athlete as a sophomore, and he knew that he wanted to play Division I and was very focused on improving his skills, and he realized he had to improve in the classroom, too."
Mocogni said 83 schools were interested in Quinton's services, and he chose Tennessee over 10 other programs that made official offers.
Quinton was on Tennessee's Sweet 16 team last season but rarely played. He graduated from Tennessee in three years and transferred to Hampton before this season. The graduate student has been one of the Pirates' leading men, with the 6-foot-6 guard averaging 10.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
"At Tennessee he was an outsider looking in, but at Hampton, he's on center stage," said Derrick Chievous, who plans to drive to Dayton for the play-in game.
Mocogni said he's enjoyed watching Quinton's progress throughout his high school and college career.
"Quinton is a kid who had a dream and had a lot of challenges in front of him," Mocogni said. "His road has not been easy by any means. It wasn't easy getting to Notre Dame, it wasn't easy at Notre Dame, it wasn't easy at Tennessee, and it's not easy where he is now. But he's a grinder and he just doesn't stop."
Said Quinton: "I was living lavish at Tennessee, and coming here, it's a really humbling experience, but it's all worth it going back to the tournament."
Quinton still has another year of eligibility next season. After he earns his master's degree — in sports administration and business — he plans to first focus on continuing his hoops career.
"I just want to get a job playing basketball, whether that's in the NBA or overseas," he said. "As long as I get a job to play the game I love, I'll be happy."
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