Starting Five: Kyle O'Quinn

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic power forward/center Kyle O’Quinn is living proof that sometimes when something unfortunate happens, it ultimately opens the door to something even better.

O’Quinn, a Queens, N.Y. native, is late to the game of basketball because he grew up loving baseball and dreaming of being the next Mike Piazza for his beloved New York Mets. But when he was cut from the baseball team during his freshman year of high school, O’Quinn was stunned and left empty-handed when it came to sports.

He sat on the sidelines for a year and dabbled in football before finally finding basketball during his junior year of high school. Just a ``foul guy’’ his junior year, O’Quinn improved so much so over the next few years that he became a high school standout, earned a college scholarship, burst on the scene as a star in the NCAA Tournament and ultimately became a second-round draft pick by the Magic. Shocking stuff, indeed, for a person who had only dreamed of playing baseball before picking up a basketball.

Now a starter for the Magic, O’Quinn is living out a dream and he is proof positive that good things can come out something not so pleasant. O’Quinn is loved by his coaches for his basketball smarts and his toughness and adored by his teammates for his big smile, flashy fashion and quick wit. writer John Denton spent some time recently with O’Quinn for a question-and-answer session to tell his inspiring story.

QUESTION: What is a secret talent that you have that nobody knows about?

O’QUINN: ``The ability to wash my car really well. I mastered that in college. My parents got me a pickup truck and I love keeping it clean. My dad said a real man doesn’t put his car through a carwash.
``My first vehicle was an Explorer and then my parents got me that F-150 later. I love my pickup. My dad, he always had a pickup, so it’s a `like father, like son’ thing. He got a real stylish (pickup) in 2004 when the Harley-Davidson came out. I’ve just always loved pickup trucks.’’

QUESTION: You have made it well known how close you are to your parents, but who outside of your immediate family has had the biggest influence on your life on and off the court?

O’QUINN: ``There’s a guy that I worked with back in college (at Norfolk State University) named Walt Webb. He really helped me out a lot on the court and off about how to set myself up for the next steps in life whatever it may be. I liked to keep him proud because he’s always believed that I had the ability to do great things in life. He used to be a high school coach, but now he’s a trainer and he helps out a lot of guys.’’

QUESTION: You announced yourself to the basketball world back in March of 2012 when your No. 15 seed Norfolk State University upset No. 2 Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. You had 26 points and 14 rebounds in that game, which earned you an invite to the Portsmith Invitational where you were the MVP. What are your memories of that game against Missouri and how significant of a moment is that in your basketball career?

O’QUINN: ``That moment was such a blur for me, but I’ve never been so happy about basketball in my life. Of course, I love the game, but that was one of those `cloud nine’ moments. Not could I not believe that it was happening, but I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me and the team. It was amazing.’’

QUESTION: You were the 49th overall pick of the 2012 Draft and I know you learned of your selection in a bizarre way. How do you describe the emotions of that night and the sense of accomplishment?

O’QUINN: ``I got drafted during a commercial, so that was kind of weird. But I knew the pick before that I was coming here (through a phone call from the Magic), so the emotions were already raised up. We were waiting for my name to come across and they went to commercial break. After the commercial, they scrolled my name across the bottom of the screen and they showed my highlights. That’s when we knew that it was real.

``As a family, we prayed and enjoyed the night.’’

QUESTION: What kind of cook are you? What’s your favorite meal to make or have made for you?

O’QUINN: ``Anything quick that I don’t have to wash dishes. I don’t mind cooking and I want to learn to cook, but the toughest part for me is washing the dishes.’’

QUESTION: When you leave the Amway Center after practice or following a game, how do you get away from basketball and rest your mind?

O’QUINN: ``Online shopping. I sit on the computer all day, looking for deals. Amazon, e-bay, anything as long as I feel like I can get a deal on it, I’m probably going to buy it. I learned from my mom to have certain stuff because you never know when you are going to need it. I online shop a lot.’’

QUESTION: You’re not a hoarder, are you? Are you frugal or a cheapskate? Tight with your money?

O’QUINN: ``I’m a little bit of everything. My mom, she was so tight. But with my dad, no matter how much it cost, if you wanted it you could get it. So I have the best of both worlds. I treat myself a lot, but I’m also real tight.’’

QUESTION: Who is the artist in your i-pod or phone that you really like to listen to but are embarrassed to admit it?

O’QUINN: ``Well, before he actually blew up, I loved Bruno Mars. A lot of people would make a frowning face at me and ask, `Bruno Mars?’ But before he came out with all of those songs in the movies, nobody knew about him but me. I’ve loved his music a long time.’’

QUESTION: As the product of a small school and a second-round draft pick, I’m sure there were lots of doubts initially as to whether or not you truly were a NBA player. Do you feel like you have erased those doubts and proven that you belong?

O’QUINN: ``Personally, I feel like I belong now. But continuing what I have been doing until I can’t do it anymore is always going to be important for me. I’ll do it to the end of my career, trying to prove that I belong here. With the responsibility that Coach (Jacque Vaughn) has given to me, it’s a small amount, but it shows the growth that I have made. That has helped my confidence a lot.’’

QUESTION: Your entry into basketball was almost accidental. Now that you have established yourself in the NBA, do you ever think about where your life would be had you not picked up a basketball that first day?

O’QUINN: ``Like I always say, when you go to work every day and you work at something every day, you don’t pay close attention to the timeline of things. But when I sit back with my parents and we think, `Wow, look where we came from.’ What I’ve been able to do has really been amazing. My trophy case doesn’t look like everybody else’s. I probably have gotten four basketball trophies in my life, but hey, I’m in the NBA.’’

QUESTION: You call your mom, Regina, every morning and you talk to your dad, Tommie, every other night. What did they do for a living and did their work ethic shape the way you have worked at your craft in basketball?

O’QUINN: ``My dad retired from the transit in New York and we had a family owned business called, ``O’Quinn and Son Hardware’’ that we all ran and we got put out of business by Home Depot. My mom was a postal police officer. Seeing them go to work every day and providing for us and doing the best that they can, we didn’t struggle, but we weren’t rich. My parents worked hard every day. With the family business, what we didn’t sell, we didn’t make in money. So that’s kind of what I take out on the court. The work that I don’t put in, it won’t show up on the court.’’

QUESTION: The fact that you wake up and call your mom every morning, do your teammates tease you for being a mamma’s boy?

O’QUINN: ``My mom is so cool and she’s been able to connect with a lot of the young guys on our team. She has hung out with me, Vic (Oladipo) and Mo (Harkless) as Disney. So when I’m around, they always say to me, `Tell your mom that I said hello.’ And my dad just loves being around all of the guys. So them being around isn’t frowned upon at all.’’