By Zach Gewelb
Kyle O’Quinn’s NBA homecoming is over.
The former Campus Magnet hoops star and Flushing native bolted from the New York Knicks in free agency this summer to ink a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Indiana Pacers. O’Quinn had previously opted out of the final year of his contract with the Knicks, which would’ve paid him $4.25 million.
While O’Quinn was a productive reserve and a good teammate with New York, he didn’t exactly praise the Knicks as he was introduced to the media in Indiana.
“I just felt like at this point, I owed it to myself to be a part of something bigger than next year’s draft,” O’Quinn said after signing with the Pacers. “After the run (the Pacers) had last year, they’re pretty established, I would say.”
The remark comes after spending the first three years of his career on subpar Orlando Magic teams before signing with the Knicks ahead of the 2015 season.
While in New York, O’Quinn’s Knicks played to a record of 95-154 across three seasons — including a 29-53 mark last season, when he averaged career highs in minutes (18.0), points (7.1) and rebounds (6.1) — never even sniffing the playoffs. And with the Knicks expected to essentially sit out free agency this season to continue building its young core around star Kristaps Porzingis, O’Quinn decided he wanted to go somewhere with a better chance of competing for a playoff spot.
The Pacers earned the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference standings last year, losing to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in a seven-game first-round series.
“Kyle is Kyle,” Knicks president Steve Mills days after O’Quinn’s comments. “He’s obviously — it felt like it didn’t come out the way he wanted it to come out, knowing Kyle. Kyle is talking, but I still love Kyle and have a lot of respect for him.”
And so the journey continues for O’Quinn, who starred on the basketball courts in Queens. He only began playing hoops in high school because of his size. He didn’t begin to see significant minutes until his senior year at Campus Magnet, when he started to take the sport seriously. His first scholarship offer, from Norfolk State, didn’t come until late in the spring.
He landed at Norfolk State, struggling until midway through his junior year. But he finished his college career with a bang and was selected by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft. He never looked back, signing a partially guaranteed, three-year, $2.5 million contract.
O’Quinn averaged 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game his senior season, earning all-MEAC second team honors and a spot on Orlando’s roster after getting drafted. He continued improving and carved out a bench role in Orlando before signing in New York as a reserve. O’Quinn appeared in 221 games — including 19 starts — and averaged 6.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 15.3 minutes per game with the Knicks.
Now, O’Quinn heads to Indiana, where his efficient scoring, rebounding and motor will serve Indiana well as the club looks to return to the postseason in a wide-open Eastern Conference.
“I drafted the young man [in Orlando] — I wish him nothing but the best,” Knicks general manager Scott Perry said. “I hope it works out for him.”
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe