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.
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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.
Dime: As a senior you had a big game versus Boys and Girls High in the PSAL playoff and this is how Norfolk assistant Robert Jones recruited you right?
KO: I had a big game against them and people started writing about me so he came up to New York. He actually came to see my point guard. 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. It was a simple process as far as recruiting. All I needed was one and that’s what I got.
Dime: How much of an influence did Campus coach Charles Granby have on you in high school and getting you to that next level?
KO: A big influence. He’s a legend. 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. Believe it or not, if I would have played with him for four years, I would have been a way better player. But he did a lot in those two years.
Dime: You were given the Lou Henson award in March. You won over guys such as Isaiah Canaan, Casper Ware and Doug McDermott. How much of a confidence boost is that?
KO: It’s just a mark on your hard work. 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 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.
Dime: Being a late bloomer, are there some positives with this that you can market to NBA teams?
KO: Being late to the game, I didn’t know as much as everybody else so when I did learn I appreciated it. 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. You got other guys going to all these AAU tournaments. So 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.
Dime: Are these workouts good ways to show off your game?
KO: They know what you can do. Like at the Warriors workout they said we know what you can do. We’ve been watching you all year. This is just a workout to put the mark on you so it can help you, it can hurt you but at the same time they know what you can do. Going into these workouts, they’re trying to get a feel about you. How you fit into their system. How do you fit around their environment.
Dime: Not being a big name in high school and being on the verge of reaching your NBA dreams, what does being at this point mean to you?
KO: It’s very big. 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 oh this kid is this, 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.
Can he make it in the NBA?
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