Growing up in the Brentwood neighborhood of Long Island during the mid-2010s, Lester Quinones gravitated towards one team: the Golden State Warriors.
As a young kid falling in love with the game while watching Steph Curry and Klay Thompson dominate the league and shoot the lights out on a nightly basis, Quinones found a source of inspiration in that duo.
“I just wanted to shoot like that,” Quinones said. “Seeing two of them, [Steph] and Klay, watching those guys, that was just a crazy run.”
Fast-forward to the present day, and Quinones has made the most of the opportunity given to him by the same organization he grew up admiring. After averaging 17.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a rookie with the Santa Cruz Warriors during Showcase Cup play, Quinones proceeded to post a team-high 21.8 points along with 7.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest in 31 games of regular season action. His strong play earned him the 2022-23 Kia Most Improved Player Award as well as a spot on the G League All-Rookie team at season’s end.
Quinones firmly cemented himself as one of the G’s most promising young players with his breakout play. More importantly, his performance turned heads over in the Bay Area - Quinones earned a Two-Way contract with Golden State in mid-March. For the undrafted rookie, finally joining the team he aspired to play for was a full-circle moment.
“To get there and be on the same team that I grew up watching my whole life, it’s just a blessing,” Quinones said.
The Dubs weren’t the only source of basketball influence for the New York native. Quinones’s father, a massive New York Knicks fan, used to show him a healthy amount of Carmelo Anthony. Fellow New Yorker Chris Mullin was also a staple of the Quinones household.
“It’s crazy because he’s a Warrior too,” Quinones said. “I've been talking to him before the games.”
After spending time playing with Brentwood High School before moving to Upper Room Christian School in Dix Hills, N.Y., Quinones spent his senior season at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J.. Teaming up with current Toronto Raptor Precious Achiuwa, they went 28-2 and finished with a top-ten national ranking according to highly-regarded high school sports outlet MaxPreps.
It was during his postgraduate season at IMG Academy in Florida that Quinones caught the attention of University of Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway. The former four-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA player has presided over a coaching staff that has featured plenty of notable names in recent seasons. That includes NBA vet Mike Miller - who was first to recruit Quinones - four-time All-Star and NBA champion Rasheed Wallace, former NBA Coach of the Year and NBA champion Larry Brown, and longtime NBA assistant coach Cody Toppert.
Earning the chance to play and learn under that collection of basketball minds was something Quinones was not about to turn down.
“When you have Penny Hardaway, Mike Miller, and those types of NBA legends coming into your house and recruiting and wanting you to play for them, it’s a huge opportunity,” Quinones said.
Quinones credited Hardaway with helping him fully understand what it takes to carve out a role at the next level. Outworking everybody, feeling the pace of the game, and developing a strong IQ are the biggest things Hardaway preached.
“Coming from somebody like Penny who’s done it at the highest level and was up there being one of the greatest ever, I don’t want to say it hits differently but you kind of lock in more hearing from somebody who’s actually done it,” Quinones said.
Plenty of success followed. Playing with the likes of James Wiseman and his former high school teammate in Achiuwa, Quinones was named to the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman team and helped the Tigers win an NIT title as a sophomore in 2021. They won at least 20 games in each of Quinones’s three seasons, which included an opening-round victory in the NCAA Tournament in 2022.
That aforementioned wisdom soon carried over into the professional level as well. Quinones signed with Golden State after going undrafted in the 2022 NBA Draft, joining their Summer League squad before arriving in Santa Cruz for the start of the season. After breaking out at the NBA G League Winter Showcase, Quinones found himself taking on an even more prominent role in the offense. He saw it as a prime chance to display the facets of his game he felt might’ve been overlooked up to that point.
“I feel like I was just taking advantage of my opportunity and showcasing stuff that everybody kind of didn't know that I have,” Quinones said. “Having that different role, showing that here, and just really slowing the game down for myself.”
As the main engine behind a Santa Cruz offense that ranked third in offensive rating during the regular season, Quinones thrived. Overall, he had six games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. That included his season-high 46-point, 12-rebound performance against Salt Lake City on March 15, which was tied for the third-highest single-game point total in the league this season. He took home Player of the Week honors twice, one of four players this past season to win that award multiple times.
Excellent play like that has helped him develop and maintain an ardent following over the years. It’s something that even traces back to the time he spent with the Dominican Republic National Team in 2018 for the Under-18 FIBA Americas Championship. Although they finished in sixth place in the tournament, it was an experience that allowed him to strengthen his bond with his Dominican background and attract even more fans.
“To represent the country like that, explore my roots, having family over there, and just trying to build a different fan base over there, I feel like it’s definitely a wonderful opportunity,” Quinones said.
That support has only grown stronger the more time he’s spent with Golden State. Since making his NBA debut on March 31, Quinones has been along for the ride as the Warriors continue to defend yet another NBA title. For an up-and-coming player like Quinones, spending extended time around Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green has been invaluable for him. Whether it’s observing them during practices and shootarounds or picking their brains for hoops knowledge, he hasn’t spared a single moment.
“Just being here and being like a sponge soaking up as much as I can from these guys,” Quinones said. “To go from watching them to now implementing their stuff into my game from just being here.”
When he’s not playing, Quinones has kept himself more than occupied off the court. Aside from being an avid Michael Jackson listener, he has long had an interest in fashion. After seeing more and more young athletes jumping on chances to profit off of their likenesses, he started his own clothing line called Effortles as his first foray into the clothing industry.
“Being able to make money off my image and kind of just seeing other people with it too is a great feeling,” Quinones said.
However, Quinones knows he has an important few months ahead of him. Getting himself ready for Summer League in July is at the top of his to-do list. Studying film, meeting with his coaches, focusing on his treatment and recovery, and sticking to his routine will all be going into his preparation.
Putting trust in the process has gotten Quinones this far, and he can’t wait for what’s in store.
“I’m excited for it,” Quinones said. “Can’t wait to lock in, go work out more, and go crazy so I’m prepared.”