MOSCOW, Idaho – The interplay of fate and old-school ties brought Quinton Forrest and the University of Idaho together when both were badly in need of luck.
Forrest had churned through two basketball programs. He left Bethune-Cookman after two seasons following a coaching change, and he was looking to salvage a final season after he spent a frustrating year at Jacksonville University, averaging 1.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 13 games while recovering from labrum surgery and battling through a sprained ankle.
Enter Stephen Madison. The former Vandals standout, who finished his career in 2014, was in Florida visiting an old high school teammate from Oregon last summer. Terrence Ross had moved on from Portland’s Jefferson High to the University of Washington and then to the NBA’s Orlando Magic. Ross was also friends with Forrest, who had decided to cast his lot with the NCAA transfer portal for one final go-round.
As basketball players do, Madison, Ross and Forrest headed to the gym. After seeing Forrest play, Madison got in touch with Zac Claus, who had recently been appointed Idaho’s interim coach when Don Verlin was summarily fired by former UI President Chuck Staben. Alleged NCAA violations were the justification for Verlin’s release, but half the Vandals team transferred when Verlin was let go.
Claus needed players.
“(Madison) reached out to me and said, ‘This guy is worthy of your time,’ ” Claus said.
At the same time, Madison “did his whole selling speech,” Forrest said. Madison talked about being an Idaho alum “and what the university did for him when he came back to finish his master’s.”
Claus said he was straightforward with Forrest about the challenge Idaho was facing this season. Forrest said he appreciates the honesty.
Built like a tight end at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Forrest looked capable of fulfilling Claus’ anticipated role for him as a rebounder, a mainstay on defense and someone who could finish plays.
“He has great physicality, a knack for the ball, and a drive to simply go get it,” Claus said.
A visit to Moscow, and successfully convincing Forrest’s mother, Ericka Lankford, that a move from Windemere, Florida, to Idaho would not imperil her son’s mental health, nor cast him into culture shock, made Forrest a Vandal.
He is a graduate transfer, serious about finishing a master’s degree in public administration, with an eye to building a career in politics or local government administration when his athletic career concludes.
Forrest has become the player Claus envisioned. He is Idaho’s leading rebounder, averaging 6 per game, and adding 5.7 points per game. Forrest is also adept at checking the post, with four blocks and 25 steals.
His game is more horizontal than vertical.
“I don’t try to outjump guys. I beat them to a spot,” Forrest said.
“He’s been through ups and downs,” Claus said of Forrest. “He’s somebody his teammates can talk to.
“He doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s on an even keel.”
Having been around basketball’s block has helped Forrest convey to his teammates on Idaho’s 6-17 team that wins and losses are part of the game. The hard-luck Vandals were handily beaten by Northern Colorado, Montana State and Southern Utah. But six other conference losses were by a total of 18 points.
“That’s the great thing about basketball. It’s all about your last three games in March, and we all still believe in our coaching staff,” Forrest said.
His notable athletic talent allowed Forrest to make up for lost time. He didn’t begin playing basketball until he was a sophomore in high school.
But he is the stepson of former St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres center fielder Ray Lankford, who never gave up the habits of a professional athlete even after retiring. Dynamic stretching, lateral quickness and ladder drills, and beach workouts were aspects of family bonding. Lankford had a career batting average of .272, with 874 runs batted in and 238 home runs, in 14 major league seasons.
“I figured I needed to contribute. “I’ve got to play something,” Forrest said of taking up basketball.
He must have been looking into a different mirror than everybody else when he decided to forgo football in high school.
“I felt I was too fragile,” he said. “I wish I could redo that experience.”
If Idaho gave him a chance to end his college basketball career on a satisfying note, it might also give him a do-over on football. Enough people have been in his ear, Forrest said, that he is considering taking part in Idaho’s NFL pro day this spring.
“I’m up in the air,” he said. “But they might convince me.”
Forrest would like to play something professionally before employing his UI public administration graduate degree. But no matter when his athletic career ends, his move to Idaho has already paid off. Forrest cites an approachable coaching staff and a tightly knit team as the highlights of his time as a Vandal.
“This will be my alma mater, in a sense,” Forrest said.
He couldn’t find Idaho on a map before he decided to come to Moscow, but now he envisions himself being a regular visitor to campus as an alum.
“I want to be a prominent figure in this university when it is all said and done,” he said.
If Forrest later finds himself in contact with a player looking for a fresh start, he can pay forward what Madison did for him.
“All I can do is tell them my experience that I had,” Forrest said. “Hopefully, that does the job.”
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