The eldest of Dave McDowell's five children has always been invested in the game. This season, as just one of two returning starters on a William and Mary basketball team few expect to repeat last year's success, Quinn McDowell is having to find an even greater level of commitment.
"The biggest thing is, you no longer just have to worry about yourself," said McDowell, a junior forward averaging 14.6 points and nearly six rebounds for the 4-5 Tribe. "The first couple games of the year, when we were having tough times, we struggled to stay positive. That's something that we, as captains, didn't do a very good job of at the beginning, but I think we're getting better at that and learning how to communicate more effectively."
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound McDowell – a Tribe captain along with senior forward Marcus Kitts and junior guard Kendrix Brown – is the leading returning scorer from a team that went 22-11 last season but lost four seniors, was picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association and began this season 0-3.
"For a while there, it was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Nothing was really coming easily to the team, offensively or defensively – especially offensively," McDowell said. "It's been a work in progress, and I don't know if any of us anticipated how much of a work it would have been, but we're getting there."
McDowell is a big reason why. He's averaging almost a point better than last season and shooting 83 percent from the free-throw line, third-best in the CAA. He also has 17 assists – 24 fewer than all of last season.
"You know what you're going to get from Quinn McDowell, every day," Tribe coach Tony Shaver said. "Quinn has the look of a choir boy, but there's a mean streak in him, too, I can tell you that. I shouldn't say mean – there's a very competitive streak in him."
McDowell comes by that honestly. All of his siblings play sports, and his father was a wide receiver at William and Mary from 1982-84.
"My dad did a good job of instilling a competitive spirit and drive in me," McDowell said.
That was evident early- like at a youth soccer game when Quinn was about 6.
"It was December, it was snowing and there was mud about six inches deep," Dave McDowell said. "He missed a goal that would have won the game. He cried for about two hours after that. He wanted to score that goal so bad."
The fire the son felt then, and the disappointment the father suffered for him, haven't changed. In a 59-55 loss at VCU on Dec. 4, McDowell had a game-high 22 points but missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have tied the game with eight seconds to play.
"I probably won't ever forget about that," Quinn said.
His dad, watching on TV, said: "I don't think I ate for several hours after that."
On the flip side, Dave McDowell watched from the Comcast Center stands with family and friends when William and Mary beat Maryland 83-77 last Dec. 30.
"The thing that I would say I'm most proud of is I feel Quinn has embraced the guys and the opportunity to help William and Mary be successful," Dave McDowell said. "He just wants to lead better, and he wants to make those guys around him better."
McDowell's teammates, old and new, say he's more animated this year.
"He's definitely emerged as the vocal leader," freshman point guard Brandon Britt said. "He can yell. He's not going to scream at you, but if you're not doing things the right way, he'll definitely get on you."
Sophomore forward Kyle Gaillard has leaned on McDowell during his transition from reserve to starter.
"He's always telling me to be confident in what you're doing and believe in yourself," Gaillard said. "He works so hard, so everyone wants to work as hard as him."
McDowell, a wing player at Archbishop Moeller in Mason, Ohio, has done a little of everything with the Tribe. Last year, he was an undersized but determined power forward who could also handle the ball. This season, the emergence of freshman forward Tim Rusthoven has Shaver hoping to get McDowell, a 43 percent career 3-point shooter, more time on the perimeter.
McDowell doesn't care where he is on the floor. He just wants to play his best while getting his teammates to do the same.
"It's a balance, learning when to be aggressive and then when to back off," McDowell said. "It's understanding that you have experience and you should have a confidence that the other guys might not have, just because you've been there more often."