By Zach Braziller
Kyle O’Quinn saw his name flash across the television screen, felt his Pastor Gregory Perry’s Virginia home basically shake and took a deep breath of exultation and elation.
The former Campus Magnet standout from Queens, who led Norfolk State to one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history in March, completed his Cinderella-story journey last Thursday night when he was drafted in the second round (49th overall) by the Orlando Magic.
“It’s a miracle,” he said after becoming Norfolk State’s first NBA draftee since Lee Johnson was taken in the third round of the 1988 draft by the Detroit Pistons. “There’s no other word I can use. Nobody would’ve thought this back in 2008. The amount of work that had to be put in, from start to finish, it looked like it was too much. To get there is like, wow.”
The 6-foot-9 forward with limited varsity high school basketball experience held just a single scholarship offer — from Norfolk State — coming out of Campus Magnet. He made the most of his four years at Norfolk, capped by his sterling season in which he was the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and led the Spartans to a shocking upset of Missouri, just the fifth time a 15th seed has taken down a No. 2, in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a tribute to him, his work ethic,” Norfolk State Coach Anthony Evans said. “What he’s getting is a result of that.”
O’Quinn’s story is a rags-to-riches tale. He didn’t take basketball seriously until senior year at Campus Magnet. He landed at Norfolk State, but struggled until midway through his junior year. With the Spartans in a midst of an 11-game losing streak, he had an epiphany, realizing he had to get more serious on the court, cut out the joking and lapses of focus.
He carried Norfolk with him, leading the Spartans to its first NCAA Tournament victory this year and a 26-win regular season, the school’s most victories since 1995. He was also named MEAC Tournament MVP and the Lou Henson Award winner at the nation’s top “mid-major” player.
“To see my name called, no money can pay back everyone who helped me and the program rise to get this opportunity,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”
O’Quinn worked out for 18 teams, but not Orlando. He did speak with assistant general manager Scott Perry leading up to the draft. He was pleased it was the Magic who took him. With little frontcourt depth and the possibility superstar center Dwight Howard could get traded, O’Quinn may have an opportunity to find his way into the rotation immediately.
“It’s another team on the rise just like Norfolk State,” he said. “The experience I had at Norfolk State, I can carry that on to the locker room with the Magic.”
O’Quinn has always been fond of Orlando, following them in the days of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal. Now he will get to be a part of the Magic.
“The Orlando Magic is one of those franchises you always respect,” he said. “To go to a franchise with that kind of tradition and the path they’ve set, it’s going to be wonderful to put that Magic jersey on.”
O’Quinn was one of two Queens products to go in the second round, Doron Lamb of Kentucky being the other. The former Bishop Loughlin standout, considered one of the top shooters in the draft, was taken with the 43rd overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Lamb served a pivotal role in the Wildcats winning a national championship, scoring 22 points in the NCAA Tournament finals victory over Kansas. He was one of six Kentucky players taken.
“They came out of nowhere and I’m happy that they chose him, out of nowhere tonight as far as I know,” Lamb’s father, Calvin, said. “It was shocking to the sense that it was Milwaukee, but it wasn’t shocking he went where he went because me personally I think he should have went a lot earlier.”
Lamb was unable to be reached for comment.
Iona College point guard Scott Machado, who led the nation in assists at 9.9 per game, was bypassed, along with West Virginia forward Kevin Jones from Mount Vernon and Xavier point guard Tu Holloway out of Hempstead, L.I.