In September 2018, at the opening game of the International Basketball Federation Women’s Basketball World Cup in Spain, the Puerto Rican national team—a first-time qualifier—took the floor against a seasoned Belgian squad. The Puerto Rican players were nervous and, after an early layup and foul shot, suffered a scoring drought of stupefying proportions. With a minute left in the first half, the score stood at 48-3. “For a coach,” the TV play-by-play commentator said, “this is your ultimate nightmare.”
It fell to the youngest player to stanch the bleeding. Just 20 and still a Dartmouth student, Isalys “Ice” Quiñones snagged a loose ball near the foul line and coolly swished a jump shot. The bucket buoyed the team, which went on to turn an epic annihilation into mere defeat.
Three years later, Quiñones leads a much-improved Puerto Rico team as it prepares to debut on an even bigger stage, the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It’s an achievement that Ice, a nickname that stuck when her sister couldn’t pronounce “Isalys,” has been preparing for all her life. Her Puerto Rican parents moved as teens to the mainland United States, settling eventually in San Diego, where her mother, Frances, served in the Navy. The military mom was a demanding taskmaster. “She’s Puerto Rican and has a crazy wild side to her,” says Ice, speaking from team headquarters in San Juan. “But she also believes you have to work hard in life. You can’t just skate by—with school or with sports.”
Quiñones’ parents exposed her to an array of sports, including soccer, tennis, and gymnastics. Basketball won out. “I loved it from the start,” she says. “It’s an all-out sport. You need every person on the floor at every moment.” After starring on her grade school team (and seeing her jersey number retired), Quiñones enjoyed a sparkling career at Otay Ranch High School and graduated with a load of athletic and academic awards—and a 4.3 GPA.
The adjustment to Ivy League basketball wasn’t easy. Quiñones worked obsessively on her game under coach Belle Koclanes. “As a high-school player, Ice was just scratching the surface of her potential,” Koclanes recalls. “We spent a ton of time on skill work. Ice is very hard on herself, and she can be fiery. She does everything with passion.” The work paid off. By her senior year Quiñones led the Big Green in points and blocks, was second in rebounds and three-pointers, and third in steals. Her Dartmouth highlight reel showcases the remarkable versatility of a 6-foot-3 post player who can shoot the three and drive to the hoop, dish creative passes, and score off the dribble from both sides.
“Ice can do it all,” says Koclanes.