Denton: O'Quinn Reflects on Past Year, Continues to Improve His Game

By John Denton
July 10, 2013

ORLANDO – As if the memories from a year ago weren’t already flooding back to Orlando Magic center Kyle O’Quinn, his mother, Regina, has been there to help with text-message reminders.

It’s been a year since O’Quinn played his way onto the Magic’s roster and carved out a NBA career. He showed up at the Orlando Pro Summer League in 2012 as a second-round draft pick with no contractual guarantees and seemingly little chance of even earning an invite to training camp.

But just as he did during a magical NCAA Tournament run at Norfolk State and an eye-opening performance at the Portsmith Invitational Tournament for draft hopefuls, O’Quinn endeared himself to the Magic with his tireless work ethic, basketball smarts and his ability to cull the most from his basketball talents.

So with the Magic back in the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League this week, O’Quinn couldn’t help but reminisce about last year when he overcame his nerves and worked feverishly to establish himself as a NBA player. And mother, Regina, and father, Tommie O’Quinn, have been right there with their son on the strolls down memory lane, reminding him of how far he’s come in a year’s time.

``My mom always reminds me (of this time last year). She pulled up my pre-draft workouts from last year, and when she was watching the draft (three weeks ago) she would text me about last year’s draft,’’ O’Quinn said with a laugh. ``Then, when the Summer League commercials started to come on TV she told me that this time last year they were ordering the NBA package so they could watch me. So she keeps me up to date.

``Last year was a long year, but I want to say, `Thank you God,’ for letting me get this year (in the NBA),’’ O’Quinn said as he was exhaling with a huge sigh of relief. O’Quinn has hardly rested on simply making the NBA, working all summer on his body and his jump shot so that he can play more of an important role on the Magic next season. O’Quinn took two weeks off following his rookie season and has since been in the weight room and on the court on a daily basis while working with coaches to improve his feel for the game.

That work has paid off with some more solid summer league play as O’Quinn has averaged 9.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 blocks in three games for the Magic (1-2). Orlando, which had Wednesday off, squandered a big lead on Monday and was flat on Tuesday again.

O’Quinn said his dedication to working this offseason to improve his strength and better his game has allowed him to once again open eyes in the summer league. ``I want to say that I’ve put a lot of work in with (Coach) Joe (Rogowski) in Strength and Conditioning. And I’ve worked to learn the NBA games with the coaches by going through game-like situations,’’ O’Quinn said. ``For me, it’s about working to be able to consistently hit that mid-range jump shot.

``Other than that it’s about gelling with guys like Tobias (Harris), Drew (Nicholson), Mo (Harkless), (Doron Lamb) and (DeQuan Jones),’’ O’Quinn continued. ``We’re learning each other. We weren’t on the court as much together last year. Sometimes Mo started with the other guys and we were on the bench or vice versa. But in this summer league we’re on the court together and in the future we’ll probably be on the court together.’’

O’Quinn, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound center, appeared in 57 games last season for the rebuilding Magic and averaged 4.1 points and 3.7 rebounds. More impressively, when given more responsibility he thrived, averaging 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in five games as a starter.

And, according to the Magic coaching staff and even O’Quinn himself, he compiled those numbers last season while mostly learning on the fly. After spending four seasons at tiny Norfolk State, O’Quinn had to work extra hard learning some of the NBA’s defensive concepts while also having to guard much bigger and stronger players. His understanding of the game is markedly improved now, Magic assistant coach James Borrego said.

``When he catches the ball now he’s a little more comfortable whereas the regular season last year he wasn’t sure what to do with the ball,’’ Borrego said. ``There have been moments where he’s caught the ball and he’s been more comfortable making a play. He’s made strides, he’s improved his shot and he’s improved physically also.’’

While remembering last year’s climb through the summer leagues, O’Quinn reminisced to a time when he was afraid to make a mistake. He said he’s taking more chances now, and that’s a big reason why his assists and blocked shot numbers are up and he’s more comfortable rising up and taking jump shots.

``Last year, it was like, ``Oh, you’re in the NBA with the big lights’ and you want to go out there and not make any mistakes. This year it’s more trial and error and trying some of the things that you’ve been working on,’’ he said. ``If those things don’t work, you go back to the lab. It’s like a test and if you fail, you go back and work on it more.’’

O’Quinn said his transition from being a small college player to the NBA was made easier by the fact that he could lean on fellow youngsters such as Harris, Harkless, Nicholson and Jones. Also, the affable big man developed a quick friendship with Magic first-round pick Victor Oladipo and has already praised the rookie point guard for his tireless work ethic. O’Quinn said he is looking forward to spending the much of the rest of the summer working with Orlando’s young players to build chemistry before next season.

``Usually with a summer league team, guys just meet each other when they get to the site. We’ve all been here all summer and we know one another,’’ O’Quinn said of the Magic’s young core of players. ``We have a little chemistry as a group. … I know if I gamble, Mo has my back and vice versa with all of the guys. You put your neck out there for all of those guys because you know they are going to have your back. That comes from us spending so much time together, playing pick-up and going through the same drills over and over.’’

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