Kyle O’Quinn is closer to his dreams

New York City, where pride is placed in skill and style on the hallowed blacktop’s from Rucker to West 4th Street. The Big Apple, where they breed fleet footed artists with the round ball. It’s where children of the concrete roam.

Kyle O’Quinn, son of Tommie and Regina, somehow missed the bug. His early short and chubby frame aided in this for sure. There was a hoop in front of his home where the neighborhood kids would come to pass the time. But he was content playing with his friends, going to school and helping out at his dad’s hardware store on weekends. Flash forward to junior year and his life course was forever changed.

After two years at Holy Cross, O’Quinn transferred to Campus Magnet High (formerly Andrew Jackson High). Like his change in educational scenery, O’Quinn’s physical frame also experienced a new point of view, sprouting from 6-3 to 6-7. He may have had an NFL future as an imposing target at tight end and back-up quarterback on the Campus football squad. Decidedly, basketball was his focus.

Photo Courtesy Getty Images

“I tried out for the team my junior year, O’Quinn says. “I sat the bench. I was one of the tallest kids coming back so the next year I played a lot of summer league and things like that. My family invested in a trainer (Bruce Bishop) and he helped me out in every aspect of my game. We probably worked two to three times a day and we got it in. It was a late start but basketball was never emphasized in my house. Nobody played it so it was a thing where whatever I wanted to do my parents were behind me.”

Every rising star needs a guiding light and his was legendary coach Charles Granby. Last season, his 43rd at the Cambria Heights section school, he led his squad to the 700th win of his career. No other Public Schools Athletic League coach has reached this plateau.

“He’s a legend,” explains O’Quinn. “He’s not your typical coach. He’s a coach, mentor; he’s like a lot of things. When he sees potential, he digs it out. It was a couple times I got kicked out of practice for not giving it my full effort or not playing the way he thinks I should play. I was a young basketball player then so he wanted to get that out of me quick and he got it out of me before I went to college.”

Playing summer league ball before his senior year, O’Quinn was getting by on the court but it wasn’t enough. The kid may have been a little too comfortable. The full spectrum of how far he could go didn’t enter his mind until a revealing conversation with Granby.

“I was doing okay, I was doing really good actually,” he says. “He said if you keep on the road that you’re going, the sky is the limit. He said you might not see it now but you’re one of the better players in the city. He told me to keep on the road and I haven’t gotten off it yet. That was one of his early teachings that he gave me.”

It paid off in the form of a 20 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks per game stat line that season. After leading Campus to a 24-5 record, divisional championship and quarterfinal run in the city tournament, he earned All-Queens and All-PSAL honors. What takes most four years, O’Quinn basically had one year to do; earn a full ride offer to college.

They say all it takes is one and heading into April, O’Quinn had none. At least not until pouring in 25 points against Boys and Girls High (had three Division I prospects) in a PSAL playoff game. Norfolk State assistant coach Robert Jones grew curious after reading the game story online, thus taking a trip up to the city.

Photo Courtesy Norfolk State University

“He actually came to see my point guard,” recalls O’Quinn. “He didn’t come to see me. He read little things about me and saw film on me. Then when he came to my school, it was in between classes and I walked past him. He said this dude is big. All the strings tied together. That’s when he was like okay, let’s make a move on him and he came to my house that day and had dinner with my family. Next thing you know I was down at Norfolk State. All I needed was one and that’s what I got.”

A bench player his first year at Norfolk, O’Quinn established himself as one of the dominant forces in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as an All-Second team performer his sophomore year. He became the school’s first ever MEAC Defensive Player of the Year the following season. The fruit of O’Quinn’s countless skill building and sweat inducing workouts with assistant Larry Vickers arrived this past season.

O’Quinn will forever live in the “One Shining Moment” lore after the No. 15 seeded Spartans took down No. 2 Missouri 86-84 in a West Region second-round NCAA tournament game in March. They were just the fifth team to pull off the 15th vs. 2nd seed upset. The win was a crowning moment in a season full of honors for the 6-10, 240-pounder.

He became the first player to be named MEAC Player and Defensive Player of the Year in the same year after putting up 15.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. O’Quinn led the MEAC and tied fifth nationally with 20 double-doubles. Going up against the top mid-major talent in the country, he was also awarded the Lou Henson Award given to the nation’s top mid-major player.

“It’s just a mark on your hard work,” he says. “John Gilchrist (former Maryland guard) told me if you put the work in early, when those accolades come you’re not surprised because the work has already been done. This year when I got MEAC player of the year and defensive player of the year that was an accomplishment because it’s never been done before but at the same time you kind of feel like you’re the player of the year all year. Winning that accolade (Lou Henson) is big. I’m not trying to down play that. There were a lot of good names. It’s an honor but it’s a mark of hard work.”

O’Quinn further cemented his place as a prime pro prospect winning MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational. He averaged 11.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks during the tournament showcasing the nation’s best seniors.

“The invite was a big time accomplishment coming from Norfolk State,” O’Quinn says. “A lot of kids don’t get invited but to go there and do the things I did and actually come out with the MVP in front of my home fans, I mean that was big. It wasn’t just big for myself, but it was big for the university. The university needed something like that. When you constantly have to prove the things that you do it’s not a chip, it’s like a sense of urgency. It has to be done. You don’t have the luxury of going to a Big East school and things like that so they don’t see you as much. So when they do, you gotta perform.”

O’Quinn has showcased his game in pre-draft workouts with the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers. He was invited to the NBA’s Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago this week as well. DraftExpress.com currently has him penciled at the 41st spot going to the Portland Trailblazers. Some believe he may be a late first-round pick, with Golden State a prime spot with the 30th pick.

The narrative O’Quinn has faced and is breaking down with each showing is predictable. The questioning of competition he faced in the MEAC. His performance at Portsmouth may have gone a long way to quell those concerns. Georgetown, Arizona, West Virginia and Pittsburgh were among the schools represented and the big man from the small school stood out above them all.

While O’Quinn is working on polishing his post game and expanding the range on his jumper, his defensive prowess has impressed. His 7’5 wingspan and timing showed scouts the difference he can make despite a lack in elite explosiveness off the floor. Teams won’t have to worry about stocking up on protein shakes and extra meals either. He wears his 240-pounds well and will be able to compete physically from day one.

The drafting business is subjective of course. The collegiate performance of Jared Sullinger may steal the hearts of some while the long term “ceiling” of a Perry Jones III will sweep others off their feet. There are your slick ball handlers, snipers from deep and straight athletic freaks but effort may be one of the more valuable skills.

O’Quinn gives off such stating, “I’m gonna find me a way to get on the court.” Effort and humbling accepting teachings is in his late bloomer DNA.

“Being late to the game, I didn’t know as much as everybody else so when I did learn I appreciated it,” O’Quinn says.” I mean you take everything more serious because you need that catch up. You’re a couple steps behind and that makes you work harder when you know you’re behind. When someone sits down and tells you something you appreciate it more. I think that’s where a lot of my appreciation for the game and my work ethic came in because I know if someone is taking the time out to teach you something I know I’m gonna have to listen because I know I need it.”

Which team decides they need O’Quinn’s talent will be revealed draft night on June 28. He plans to keep it low key watching at home with his family. Whether he’s cognizant of it or not, Kyle O’Quinn is a billboard of inspiration, a walking testimony. His story from unknown to possibly reaching the peak of his craft gives credence to the late blooming, overlooked and undervalued.

Photo Courtesy Reuters

They feel him and in turn O’Quinn knows he’s not alone as he traverses the country showing off his pro-ready mindset and game. This is why he’s in Las Vegas training at Impact Basketball. It’s why he’s lifting, conditioning, playing and polishing. His success contributes to a bigger theme that reaches far beyond chartered flights and five-star hotels.

“It’s very big,” O’Quinn acknowledges. “It’s not only big for myself but also you can tell somebody later on in life, you can share this with younger kids saying it can be done through work. So many kids get discouraged with this kid is number one in the country; this kid is number five in the country. That stuff is all good if you care about it. But if you put in the work you can catch anybody. Nobody can control your work. I’m an education major so I go out to a lot of schools. I think it will help out my message to them. With me coming from where I came from and putting a mark on how hard you work you don’t know where you can go.”

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