Hopes NCAA tournament is in postseason plans after program’s nine-year absence
Sometimes your future is calling for you from the bushes.
Coach Anthony Carlyle, Quinndary Weatherspoon’s high school coach, remembers well the many mornings he would drive over to the young baller’s house to get him up for early morning workouts. “On some mornings, I’d be knocking on his bedroom window, standing in the bushes,” Carlyle said. “I’d work him out individually, at 6 a.m. sometimes. He was just one of those kids, he did what he was supposed to do. He spent a lot of time in the gym.”
That work has paid off. Over the last four years, the quiet—at times drowsy—Weatherspoon has allowed his stats to speak the loudest. And as he puts the final brushstrokes on his Mississippi State canvas, the 6’4″ guard has amassed nothing short of a masterpiece: his more than 1,800 points places him fifth on the school’s all-time scoring list.
Weatherspoon first burst onto the scene in 2015-16 when he averaged 12 points per game as a freshman for the 14-17 Bulldogs. That year, he started 17 games and hit a buzzer beater against Vanderbilt that caused the 6,194 souls in Humphrey Coliseum to go Starkville-raving mad. His sophomore year, he made second-team All-SEC and pushed his scoring average to 16.5 per contest. Last year, his scoring dipped to 14.4 per game but he reached a high-water mark in assists at 3.3 per game.
It appears he saved his best for last. This season, his senior year, Weatherspoon is averaging 18 ppg, which currently ranks him third on the Southeastern Conference (SEC) scoring list behind last year’s Player of the Year, Tennessee’s Grant Williams, and Ole Miss’ Breein Tyree.
His career has not been devoid of trials, however. His sophomore year, he battled a wrist injury which ultimately required surgery and put his NBA hopes on hold. After suffering a torn ligament in his wrist against Boise State in November of that year, Weatherspoon reportedly was out for the season. But the rumors of his prognosis were wildly exaggerated. Weatherspoon missed two games, and, like Willis Reed marching back onto the floor from the bowels of Madison Square Garden, he triumphantly returned. Against Oregon State, he slapped on a wrist brace, calmly walked out onto the floor, and dropped 21 on the Beavers.
“It was great just having Q (Weatherspoon) back on the floor but then to have him play so good was great for us in the first half. His defensive pressure was so intense and he is the ultimate team guy,” MSU coach Ben Howland told the Associated Press.
His sophomore campaign, the Bulldogs were improving, but had not yet taken the leap State fans were anticipating. That occurred in Year 3. As Howland continued to add key pieces like Quinndary’s younger brother, Nick, and Lamar Peters, the Bulldogs were trending upward. But the most important stabilizing factor for Howland was having the luxury of Q Weatherspoon as the resounding backbone of the team.
One thing that continues to elude MSU is an invitation to the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Bulldogs were 22-11 (9-9 conference) after getting knocked out of the SEC Tournament in the second round by Tennessee. But the tournament powers-that-be did not look favorably on them, and Howland’s squad failed to make the “big dance” for the ninth straight year.
Although the Bulldogs were disappointed, they did not settle. They won three games in the NIT, knocking off Nebraska, Baylor, and Louisville before falling in the semis to Penn State.
Weatherspoon did not have a great tournament, but it was not indicative of much. After slumping in the first two rounds, he exploded for 19 against Louisville. He concluded the tournament with only 6 points against the Nittany Lions, but overall State fans were pleased with the direction the program—and Weatherspoon—was headed.
With a solid returning cast that included both Weatherspoons, Peters, and Aric Holman, and the addition of talented freshmen like Reggie Perry, expectations were out the roof for Mississippi State as the 2018-19 season approached. Led by Quinndary’s 15.1 ppg, the Bulldogs charged out to a 12-1 record before conference play began. During that span of 13 nonconference games, he scored in double figures in 12 of them and hit the 20-point mark on six occasions. Against BYU on December 29, he poured in 27 en route to a 103-81 victory.
But so far the conference slate has not been as kind to the Bulldogs as Howland would have wished. Dropping six of the first 11 conference games, five of which were losses of five points or less, State’s inability to win the close game is what is separating it from greatness.
Still, Weatherspoon has been nothing short of brilliant. He was recently named a finalist for the Jerry West Award, given to the nation’s top shooting guard. He pumped in back-to-back 27-point games in losses at Ole Miss and against LSU. He scored another 27—netting 4 of 5 3-pointers—in a home win against Auburn.
As Weatherspoon closes the book on a remarkable career, let’s review some of his stats. He has scored in double figures in 96 games in his career. Crowds have witnessed him score 20 points or more on 26 occasions. He posted a career high of 29 on January 25, 2017, against Missouri, and he’s scored 27 on five occasions.
Scoring has been something Quinndary Weatherspoon has mastered since high school.
At Velma Jackson High in Camden, Mississippi, Weatherspoon led the Falcons to three straight Class 3A state championships. And each year, Carlyle was his head coach. When reviewing Quinndary’s time at VJHS, Carlyle, who is now the head coach and athletic director at Yazoo City High School, recalls a story that has stuck in his memory throughout the years, one that is both comical to him and signaled Quinn’s arrival.
As Carlyle relates the story, Velma Jackson was hosting the county tournament in Quinndary’s sophomore year, and on the last day of the tournament, Carlyle had to be at the tournament early to observe the consolation games. “[Quinn] asked me if he could go to the school with me,” Carlyle said. “I said, ‘Quinn I really don’t want you to go this early with me because I’ve got to be out here all day. We don’t play until the last game.’ He said ‘coach, I’m fine. I just want to go.’ I said ‘OK.’”
As they were driving to the gym, Carlyle decided he should probably get Quinn something to eat. “So I stopped and got him some Popeye’s on the way,” Carlyle remembered. “We are playing the No. 6-ranked team in the state in the county championship and nobody really knew about us. We hadn’t won a championship yet. After I fed him, that night he dropped 33, and we won the county championship… I always joked with him, I said ‘man, if I know you are going to play like that, I’ll feed you Popeye’s every game!’”
But scoring and winning was something that always seemed quite natural to him. In the state championship game versus Aberdeen in 2015, Quinndary dropped 28 points, dished out 9 assists, and hauled in 5 boards. “It feels the same way when I won the first one. I’m kind of used to winning them now,” Weatherspoon told the Clarion Ledger.
A four-star prospect that was recruited by schools like Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Wake Forest, Weatherspoon eventually decided on Mississippi State, which was then coached by Rick Ray. “I like the opportunity that I’ve been handed because I want to help Mississippi State rebuild their program,” Weatherspoon told WAPT 16 news.
Indeed he has.
Ray was fired that offseason and replaced by Howland, who had taken two years off after his firing from UCLA in 2013. Weatherspoon stuck to his commitment, a decision that has caused Bulldog fans to wear a smile for the last four seasons.
What will happen from here is anyone’s guess. State has the talent to make a run this March, but whether or not the Bulldogs can consistently win the close one may factor in the team’s early exit or tournament continuation.
In a college basketball ecosystem of one-and-dones and short-lived careers, Weatherspoon, a four-year guy, has been the anomaly. When he hangs his jersey up for the last time at the end of this season, he will be lauded as one of the best players in the history of MSU basketball.
One thing the fleeting players miss out on by leaving early for the NBA is the tag of “legend”—something that Weatherspoon will always wear in Starkville as he lives out the balance of his life. H&A
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