Quinones Inspired, Driven By Unthinkable Tragedies

Standing just a shade over 5-feet-2, you may not immediately place Jessena Quinones as one of the top all-around girl’s basketball players in Arizona.

That is, of course, until she steps on floor and the ball is tipped.

“I started playing when I was five,” Quinones said to Sports360AZ.com. “When I watched my sister’s basketball game, I was sitting in the crowd with one of my younger friends and I looked at them and I said, ‘I’m going to be better than my older sister.'”

Older sister is Jazmin Quinones, who would play at South Mountain Community College and Texas Southern University after a standout prep career at Peoria High School just over a decade ago.

Jessena’s journey to prep stardom on the hardwood would take a different path. After attending Liberty High School her freshman year, she transferred to Desert Heights Prep in Glendale to help strengthen her academic resume for college.

On the court she would end her senior season averaging nearly 16 points, seven steals and 8.7 assists – which placed her first in the category in Arizona and in the Top 10 nationally.

Just days after the Coyotes’ finished their impressive 16-2 season, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Jessena’s life would change forever.

In a span of just 60 days she lost her cousin Julio Van Luvanee, grandmother Migdalia Ortiz and an extremely close family friend, Lee Humes – all to the coronavirus.   

Quinones recalls fondly the memories shared with the women she loved to try to impress as a little girl.

“I remember when I was younger we used to make pancakes,” she explained teary-eyed. “I had no idea what I was doing but she was amazing at it. She would tell me what [ingredients] to put in and I would do it. She would just burst out laughing because she thought I was just doing it for the camera.”

The day before her passing Lee Humes would be diagnosed with COVID.

He would lose his hard-fought battle less than two months later.

Much like with her grandmother the emotions were, at times, simply overwhelming losing someone she’d known since she was five.

“He was just a very good man,” she explained wiping a tear from her eye. “He was very strong on his belief of being a Christian. It’s very inspiring. I want to be that kind of person that he was…it’s time for others to step up and run his organization, Deep Within.”

Deep Within Rehab in Peoria was started by Lee and his wife Cindy. The non-profit men’s drug and alcohol center gives others a second chance when their outlook on life at that time may be bleak.

“They moved into the location where they are here in Peoria,” Jessena’s mother Millissa explained to Sports360AZ.com. “They work throughout the program. [They’re] provided meals seven days a week. Deep Within mentors people to get back and live productive lives in society. Those people that Lee helped, help other people. So much community was built from him.”    

Now Jessena is using the strength left behind by the trio who passed to push her pursuit of basketball to the next level.

“I’m going to GCU,” she said nodding her head with a grin. “I’m going to try to walk on.”

Playing college basketball is important.

In many ways, it’s personal.

“Especially with Lee, when he passed I felt it in me,” she reflected. “He said before [he passed] that he was going to go watch me play in college. When he did pass I decided, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this for him. I feel it in me.’ It’s crazy how it all connects together.”  

Due to her outstanding academic standing at Desert Heights, Quinones received the Presidential Scholarship. She will live on campus and will study computer programming.