As the catalyst for the Norfolk State University basketball program the past few years, big man Kyle 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 15 vs. 2-seed upset.
The win was a crowning moment in a season full of honors for the 6-10, 240-pound Jamaica, Queens native by way of Campus Magnet High School. O’Quinn earned the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards after putting up 15.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. He led the MEAC and tied for 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.
O’Quinn further cemented his place as a prime draft prospect by 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.
Next up is the NBA Draft on June 28. Working out for the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers, O’Quinn is hoping to show teams he is just scratching the surface with his talent. DraftExpress.com currently has him penciled at the 41st spot in the draft, going to the Portland Trail Blazers.
O’Quinn talked to Dime about life since the March upset, his late start to the game and how he hopes to use his underdog story to motivate the next generation.
*** *** ***
Dime: How has life been since March?
Kyle O’Quinn: Every day is something new. I mean as far as winning the championship, nobody even talks about the championship anymore. Winning the MEAC championship to the tournament, to the PIT, to these workouts it’s a whirlwind.
Dime: Speaking of Portsmouth, winning MVP was a major accomplishment. What was that experience like representing Norfolk State?
KO: The invite was a big time accomplishment coming from Norfolk State. 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.
Dime: How much of a chip on your shoulder did you come out there with?
KO: 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.
Dime: Looking back at your high school career, you had a late start. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens how did you get involved with basketball?
KO: It was a late start. I tried out for the team my junior year, I made it. 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. Coming into my senior year, I came in with a lot of confidence knowing way more. I led the team in scoring I believe and we went 24-1. 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.
Dime: You played football as well right?
KO: I played football my junior year. My best friend was the quarterback and we wanted to hang together. So I tried out for the football team and I was actually pretty good. I played tight end and I played second string quarterback. I liked it for a little bit but going into my senior year, you gotta take things more seriously as far as grades and things. It wasn’t enough time in the day for me to balance football, basketball and school trying to go to college. I had to give up one so I choose football.