No hoopster from a black college has been chosen since the Milwaukee Bucks took Shaw guard Flip Murray in the second round a decade ago. That dubious streak is likely to end Thursday night with the drafting of Kyle O’Quinn. (Photo: AP)
It has been a long, dry season for HBCUs when it comes to the NBA Draft. No hoopster from a black college has been chosen since the SuperSonics took North Carolina Central guard David Young on the second round eight years ago.
That dubious streak is likely to end Thursday night, however.
Draft analysts project that Norfolk State forward/center Kyle O’Quinn, 6 ’10”, 240 lbs., will be taken somewhere between the late first round and the middle of the second round following a solid four-year career for the Spartans.
“He is an intriguing player,’’ says an NBA team personnel executive who didn’t want to be identified. “He’s the kind of player, who if he gets to a team, can fight and make the roster. He’s a (Miami Heat forward) Udonis Haslem type.’’
O’Quinn’s forte is rebounding and defense and he is considered an improving offensive player.
“O’Quinn has a really high basketball IQ and can pass the ball , particularly for a big man,’’ says Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, a former scout for the Toronto Raptors. “He has a nose for the ball, and he can run.’’
O’Quinn burst on the scene by leading Norfolk State to an upset victory against second-seeded Missouri in the NCAA Tournament and served notice of his skills to anyone who wasn’t aware of his abilities. He scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as Spartans won 84-82.
“That was a great experience not only for me, but for Norfolk State, for us to share that experience together,’’ O’Quinn says his team’s victory against Missouri. “It did a lot for the team and for myself. People could say what we read was correct. It was an opportunity of a lifetime for us, and it put me in a real good position to show what I could do. But it didn’t prove anything.’’
O’Quinn was in the top 20 in NCAA Division I for the 2011-12 season in rebounding (10.3), blocked shots (2.7) and field goal percentage (57.3%). He also averaged 15.9 points and became the first player in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference history selected Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. He was also the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year.
O’Quinn is ranked No. 41 among the top 100 draft prospects and is among the top 15 post players in this year’s draft. Teams like his size, athleticism and energy.
They also like his work ethic and dedication to staying in shape. His body fat was measured at 8.0% at the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago, where the top 60 draft prospects were invited to work out, go through drills and scrimmage in front of personnel executives from all 32 NBA teams.
“What people like is that after the end of the season, he transformed his body and got in shape,’’ said a personnel executive from an Eastern Conference team, who didn’t want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly about draft prospects.
O’Quinn has worked out for 19 teams – including Portland and Detroit – leading up to the draft in addition to playing at the pre-draft camp and the Portsmouth (Virginia) Invitational Tournament (PIT), the first pre-draft venue for draft prospects. The past two months have been a hectic time for O’Quinn, but he says he relished the opportunity to show teams the type of player he is since he didn’t get the type of exposure and attention at Norfolk State that his peers at larger schools may have gotten.
“It wasn’t really grueling,’’ he says. “I knew it had to be done. It really didn’t shock me to have to work for that many teams. A lot of people wanted to see what I could do. I liked that. I think I showed a lot of people what I can do against highly rated big people. It was like a job interview.’’
O’Quinn says traveling from city to city was the taxing aspect of his pre-draft workout tour, not the workouts themselves.
“You got to be mentally tough,’’ he says. “That’s something Coach (Anthony Evans of Norfolk State) helped me with. That was one of the things we worked on. We wanted to be the most mentally tough team in the conference – get your mind right.’’
After the season ended, O’Quinn worked out at Impact Fitness, a training facility in Las Vegas. There he reshaped his body and refined his game. His efforts paid dividends at the PIT, as he took home the MVP Award at the PIT after averaging 11.7 points, 11.7 rebound and 3.7 blocked shots.
“The PIT was great,’’ O’Quinn says. “It was like my coming out party for being a pro. It was the first time I was on my own and not representing Norfolk State. I wanted to show people what I could do. I knew people wanted to see it. I got a chance to play against other big men and play with highly rated guards. It was an opportunity I had to take advantage of.”
Even Anthony Evans, O’Quinn’s coach at Norfolk State was impressed despite having watched him play for four years.
“I thought he was the most skilled post player there,’’ Evans says. “He looked like he belonged. “I was not surprised by how well he did, and the improvement he made. He looked a lot more explosive. It was good to see that his game has rounded out. He will be a good pro because he is a skilled rebounder and shot-blocker. Those are attributes the NBA looks for, and he has a lot of room for growth.’’
O’Quinn, a native Jamaica, N.Y., has played organized basketball for just five years after experiencing a late growth spurt. He was 5′ 11″ his freshman year. His sophomore year shot up from 6′ 3″ to 6′ 7″. By his junior year, he was 6′ 10″. That’s when he began to look seriously at basketball and coaches looked seriously at him. He only played one season of varsity ball at Magnet High School, and Norfolk State was the only school that offered him a scholarship.
O’Quinn‘s career at Norfolk State started in modest fashion. He averaged 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds while starting just two games his freshman season. At that point, the NBA was nowhere on his radar. However, his statistics – and his game – improved each succeeding season.
“My senior year, when I had a good year and did well in the PIT, I said, okay, I got a shot,’’’ he says.
Now O’Quinn is on the verge of joining the likes of Hall of Famers Sam Jones, Willis Reed and Earl “The Pearl’’ Monroe, NBA champions Bob Dandridge, Dick Barnett, Avery Johnson, Rick Mahorn, Ben Wallace and Lindsay Hunter, Bob Love, Charles Oakley and hundreds of other HBCU alumni who have made their marks in the NBA. It’s an honor that he doesn’t take lightly.
“People don’t understand that when you come from an HBCU and have success, the following that you have,’’ O’Quinn says. “You’re putting all of them on your back. You’re representing all HBCUs. That feels good.’’