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January provides leadership to Riverdale

Photo by Gabriel Stovall
Riverdale junior Quincy January’s emergence has helped make the Raiders an unexpected player in the Region 4B-AAAA race.

Photo by Gabriel Stovall Riverdale junior Quincy January’s emergence has helped make the Raiders an unexpected player in the Region 4B-AAAA race.

RIVERDALE — Quincy January is quite the gentleman.

His ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ answers to questions would make a mother proud.

The way he looks you in the eye confidently as he speaks would disarm even the toughest father of a high school-aged daughter. His easy-going persona is unmistakable. And by his own admission, he is a guy who makes a lot of friends.

That is until he gets on the basketball court.

“I definitely have a different off-the-court personality,” January said. “I have friends until I get on the court. I don’t fear anybody on the court. No sympathy, no mercy. None of that while I’m playing.”

That’s not entirely true when it comes to the other four guys that step out on the floor with him donning the Riverdale black and silver. For January, those guys are just like close relatives.

“It’s a brotherhood,” January said. “We’re all close. We’re all just like family. Last year, we had our three seniors and everything kind of revolved around them. But this year we’re just kind of taking turns helping keep everybody together.”

Clear cut leadership does exist on this team, however. When asked, January pointed to senior guard Demetrius Johnson as one who “gets us all pumped and focused for each game.”

But the 6-foot-3 junior center is no slouch. Going into Friday’s game against Lovejoy, January is averaging about 19 points and six rebounds a game. Though he won’t mention himself among Riverdale’s leaders, don’t think his presence isn’t being noticed.

“Quincy is really the face of the team,” Raiders coach Tony Brinson said. “The guys really look up to him because of the way he plays hard and plays strong all the time.”

Brinson said he didn’t get a great look at January last season as he was coaching the girls’ team, but he heard enough rave reviews from the previous coaching staff. But there’s nothing like a first-hand view.

“Seeing him play personally, I’ve seen where he’s basically playing the same way they he was last year,” Brinson said. “I saw him in spurts last year. But what’s gotten me is how he’s being more vocal and being more of a leader this year.”

And yes, that vocal leadership does include a little in-game chatter.

“My coach calls me the (Kevin Garnett) of the team,” January said. “I like to try to do a little trash talk out there. Do whatever I can to get in the other team’s head. When I score, I let them know I scored. If I block their shot, I might hand them the ball to make them think about it.”

But it’s all in fun, January said.

“I dap them up at the end of the game,” he said.

January’s out loud play has been the impetus for the Raiders marked improvement this season. Riverdale is 12-9 and 8-4 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B, which is three games behind subdivision leading Jonesboro. The Raiders lost 54-48 to the Cardinals last Friday after being down by as many as 17 earlier on.

January’s game-high 17 points, including several clutch buckets, rebounds and blocked shots down the stretch, was key in the late surge.

It’s also a sign of Riverdale’s resiliency.

With a senior laden group, Riverdale was 10-8 this time last season, and very much on the outside looking in of the region race. With a new coach and a young squad, call it conventional wisdom to believe that this season would be even tougher.

It is that resiliency mixed with January’s confidence that has caused some to be shocked by the success of this youthful Riverdale squad.

“We’re very good this year, but we’ve still got a lot of room to improve,” Brinson said. “We’ve played better than many people expected. We’re right now one of the better teams in our subregion. If we stay focused, we’ll be ready to make a good tug at the region down the stretch.”

The good thing — or the scary thing, depending on who you are — is that January may have the most upside among this potential filled team.

“As good as he is, there’s more for him to get better at,” Brinson said. “With his size, he’ll probably be a small forward at the next level. He’ll have to improve his ball handling and footwork. But he jumps so well I can see him playing major college ball somewhere.”

January’s rise is causing other coaches to take notice and game plan around him. But he insists that he’ll keep a level head, regardless of how high his abilities take him.

Thanks to the mentorship of his cousin John Griffin — an NFL running back with the New York Jets — he has a better understanding of what it takes to be a winner.

“He tells me to always be humble,” January said. “I see his example of working hard and it helps motivate me to do the same,” January said. “Athleticism is the strength of my game, but my mental approach to the game changed from last year to this year, and that’s been the difference. I know now that it takes a team, not a selfish player, to win championships.”