Kyle O’Quinn isn’t going to lead the National Basketball Association in any key statistics like scoring, rebounds or assists. But he could arguably be on the league’s broadest smile team.
And he has a few reasons to smile. The 6-10, 250-pound, thickly bearded reserve could end up being the biggest off-season bargain for the Philadelphia 76ers.
On July 11, O’Quinn left the Indiana Pacers to sign a one-year veterans minimum free agent deal worth $2,028,594. With the ability to play both power forward and center, he should see plenty of action spelling Joel Embiid and Al Hortford.
A seven-year NBA veteran, Quinn brings a maturity level to a very young and talented team that is expected to contend for a championship.
“He’s tough,” said Sixers head coach Brett Brown about O’Quinn. “He is a man. There is a physical side of him that you can see in his face. He plays hard and he’s very passionate about what he does for the team.
“I think he has incredible feet and he is a great passer, who can turn and face and make that elbow jump shot. He’s been a great pickup for us and a great teammate.”
O’Quinn is proof that historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) have talented players. O’Quinn starred at Norfolk State University, which retired his No. 10 last Feb. 16. He’s the third NSU player to have his number retired. The others are two-time NBA champion Bob Dandridge (12) and the late David Pope (34).
His senior season at Norfolk State was memorable. The Spartans won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and advanced to the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a 15th seed. O’Quinn, who was the MEAC Player of the Year and the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year as well as winner of the Lou Henson Award as the nation’s top mid-major player, collected 26 points and 14 rebounds to lead Norfolk State to an 86-84 upset win over No. 2 seed Missouri in the opening game. NSU was eliminated in the next round by the University of Florida, 84-50.
A great showing at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, where he was an all tourney selection and the tourney MVP, helped him become a second-round pick by the Orlando Magic. He spent three years with the Magic before being dealt to the New York Knicks in 2015. In 2018, he signed a free agent deal with the Indiana Pacers after opting out of the final year of his contract with the Knicks. It was a good decision that got him a $4.5 million deal, a $200,000 raise.
When he’s smiling, the 29-year-old O’Quinn is happy.
“When I’m smiling, I’m playing my best,” O’Quinn said. “I understand my role. I go out and play it to the best of my ability.”
O’Quinn’s game involved physicality. He will go the rack to get a rebound. He will play tough defense on an opponent. Offensively, he has a nice inside game and little mid-range jumper that can find its way through the net.
And don’t worry about him becoming fat while warming the bench.
“I take care of my body,” O’Quinn said. “I have a life long after basketball. I want to be able to run around with my family. I take pride in looking after my body. I practice yoga and it has really helped me. I’m really in-tuned with my body and what I put in it. It helps having Al Hortford as a teammate. He’s been around and I pick his brain about being healthy. “
As a former HBCU star, O’Quinn wants to make a difference.
“I’m not a poster child for HBCUs.” he said. “There were great players before me from HBCUs and there will be many great players after me. It was an opportunity I had and I took advantage of it. To my family and my faith in God, it’s worked out for me. HBCUs have great players, it’s just about the opportunity and the right person seeing them. You’ve got [former Sixer now with the Minnesota Timberwolves Robert] Covington, myself I’m not going to take the shine from anyone else. Collectively we make a good push for HBCUs.”
O’Quinn, who completed his degree in interdisciplinary studies and graduated in May 2016, has pledged $100,000 to NSU over a four-year period to finance summer school for the basketball team.
And that’s worth smiling about.