It is not easy for young players to adjust to the NBA, let alone endure seasons of losing and injuries that can derail all future plans. Yet, after two up-and-down seasons in Orlando, Kyle O’Quinn appears to have come into his own, both with his play on the court and voice off of it.
He isn’t the flashiest guy on the court. He won’t make you stand up from your seat and yell in disbelief, but O’Quinn has grown into a formidable big man in the Magic rotation who also serves as a prominent voice within the locker room.
Despite an ankle injury which sidelined him for 16 games earlier this season, the 24-year-old is averaging career highs across the board and is on pace to start more games than ever before. O’Quinn is also building his game, attempting to extend his range to the three-point line, which is a must in today’s NBA even for power forwards.
Between finding his place in the league and maintaining his impressive beard, O’Quinn carved out some time to speak with Dime about his role with the struggling Magic, appreciation for Kevin Garnett, favorite music and more.
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Dime: How difficult was it for you to get injured in the first game of the season, sit on the bench for the next 16 games of the season and then come back?
Kyle O’Quinn: It was tough because you work so hard in the summer time. Preseason went well for me but the first game, I stepped on someone’s ankle [and subsequently injured his own.] You knew it would be okay, but it was really tough. My ankle wasn’t reacting to the treatment. You have to go back to the drawing board.
Dime: Despite missing a good portion of November, you have returned strong and are averaging career highs across the board; what’s the biggest difference from this season to previous seasons?
KO: Now that I’ve been in the mix since the beginning with (Coach Jacque Vaughn], he holds me accountable for my role on the team, whether that is being a backup, being a starter, or the first or second big off the bench. You just have to fit your role. And you have to have a level of appreciation; you never know when you are going to be out with an injury.
Dime: Speaking of your role on the team, you’ve been in-and-out of the starting lineup this season. Do you feel you are ready to start for Orlando right now?
KO: I would never come out and say that I should start. It’s whatever the team needs. It depends on if the lineup works better and if the coach feels better about it. It doesn’t make a difference to me. Either way, the biggest thing I always tell guys is as long as I’m on the court somehow. The worst thing is having no role and being on the bench.
Dime: You’ve already attempted more three-pointers this season than you have in the last two years combined. Is this an aspect you are looking to add to your repertoire down the line?
KO: I worked on it a lot this summer, shooting corner three-pointers. I was shooting well in training camp and the offense was tailored for a stretch-four and I found myself playing [the power forward position]. There was a group decision and they said it was okay for me to do it. They trusted me not to just go out there and jack up threes.
Dime: What are some of the keys to turn the season around for your struggling Magic?
KO: Everybody staying healthy is the main factor. Closing games out is always tough for us but it’s a big thing we have to deal with. I mean we’ve been the “young excuse” for a while. The only thing that matters is getting the “W,” getting over the hump and maturing. Whether that means Tobias [Harris] taking it to the next level or me being the best backup possible or Nik [Nikola Vucevic] being the best big man. We have to raise our game.
Dime: You are just 24 years old, but there are seven younger players than you on the roster. Do you feel a sense of leadership with the Magic?
KO: Somewhat. I went to college for four years and there are some guys who went for one year. There’s a certain level of maturity if you go to school for four years. There’s already a level of respect given (to guys who went to college for four years) in the league. I would say I have a little more life skills than guys who went for one year and say, “Look. You don’t want to do that, you might want to do this instead.”
Dime: You’ve said in the past that you like to model yourself after Kevin Garnett. Have you ever had any personal interaction with him? Is he as scary as people make him out to be?
KO: My rookie year I wasn’t playing much, we were losing bad [against the Celtics] and coach put us in for the last six minutes. I did well, had nine, maybe 10 points and caught a couple nice put-back dunks. I was also rebounding well and playing with a lot of energy. I walked to half court and KG touched my head and said, “Young fella, keep it up!” He’s one of my favorite players. Believe it or not, I have the same trainer KG had when he was younger. I look forward to maybe meeting him again in the summertime.
Dime: You seem to embrace the challenge on the defensive end of the floor. Who is the toughest player you have ever had to guard?
KO: Al Jefferson. He is one of the tougher guys to guard. The ball is always coming his way. Charlotte runs a lot of players through him. Out of 30 possessions in that offense, he might touch 27 of them. One-on-one he is one of he best back to the basket scorers. He’s a big dude.
Dime: Who is the funniest player in the locker room?
KO: Vucevic. He’s been in the states maybe 5 or even less years and is like an American/European with an accent but has American jokes and American swag. Whatever is going on Twitter or Instagram, he will bring it to the locker room.
Dime: What are some hobbies that you enjoy in your free time?
KO: I like hanging out with my family. They come into town often and that’s always a good feeling. I like to check out different cities. Fortunately, being in the NBA, this is the best of the best and we stay in the best areas with the best hotels. There are always things to do and nice places to shop.
Dime: What is bumping on your pre-game playlist right now?
KO: Mixture between Gospel Music – Smokie Nurful – and Hip-Hop. I’m listening to J. Cole’s new album right now.
Dime: “Forest Hills Drive?” I’ve been listening to that too. Fire Squad is one of my favorite songs on the album.
KO: Yeah, that song is real good.
Dime: With one of the NBA’s most impressive beards, what do you think of the beards around the rest of the league?
KO: You know what it is? (Laughs) Some guys never have had beards and all of a sudden they pop up with them. [James] Harden’s beard is really full. My beard doesn’t really grow, but it’s unique. Beards are different, some with patches or holes, but it’s really all about what you like.
What do you think?
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