It was one of the indelible images of the year. A wide-eyed, smiling Kyle O'Quinn screaming in ecstacy after Missouri's last-ditch 3-pointer fell off the rim allowing Norfolk State to become just the sixth 15-seed in NCAA Tournament history to advance to the Round of 32.
Maybe this year's Florida Gulf Coast story — the first 15-seed to make the Sweet Sixteen in NCAA Tournament history — takes away some of the significance of what O'Quinn and his Spartans did. Or maybe O'Quinn is still living out that dream.
After all, without that stage in the NCAA Tournament it is very likely O'Quinn, despite averaging a double double as a senior at Norfolk State, would not have been invited to the Portsmouth Invitational where he took hom tournament MVP honors. And if that does not happen, who knows if Rob Hennigan and his staff would have taken notice of the burly forward and taken him in the second round of the Draft. And if that does not happen, who knows if O'Quinn gets noticed with his physical play in the Summer League.
It has all seemingly led up to this opportunity now at the end of the season. And the one he clearly got when he stepped onto the floor in his hometown of New York City at Madison Square Garden last week.
As John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com beautifully describes, O'Quinn's father was filled with immense pride when he saw his son record career highs with 12 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. Two days later, O'Quinn would earn his first start with Nikola Vucevic suffering a mild concussion.
I didn’t know how to feel with him out there playing so well, but it made me think about Omaha, Nebraska, all over again," Tommie O’Quinn said, referring to his son’s big moment in the NCAA Tournament last March. "He got that double-double out there tonight against the (New York) Knicks and I just thought to myself, 'There’s no stopping this kid.'
"Some fan, who was from Kansas, asked me after the game how I felt with the way Kyle played and I told him, 'It’s like the bucket is full for us right now because I can’t believe what Kyle has accomplished,'" Tommie continued to marvel, while shaking his head in amazement. "Tonight is almost exactly a year later (from the 2012 NCAA Tournament) and it’s a reminder of what Kyle did in college. I tell you, I have to give it up to him because he’s accomplished so much."
There really does seem like there is no stopping O'Quinn.
O'Quinn's first appearance in a Magic uniform came in Summer League when he impressed with his toughness and rugged interior play. He did not back down when Andre Drummond tried to intimidate him physically and ended up dominating that Summer League game. Afterward, he said he did not care where Drummond was drafted, he was going to compete and not back down.
That attitude rubbed the Magic the right way and they made sure to bring him into the fold in the preseason.
O'Quinn has spent the majority of the season in mop-up minutes and on the bench. However as the season has gone on, Jacque Vaughn has increased his playing time. With Vucevic out, O'Quinn is often the only center on the roster. He recorded his first career start Friday against Oklahoma City with 11 points and nine rebounds.
The boisterous O'Quinn has been a spark for the Magic since becoming a regular in the lineup. He is not afraid of physical contact and is not afraid to mix things up. However, he also has the finesse to step out and hit mid-range jumpers. He is the first to admit that the game is still slowing down for him as he gets comfortable in the NBA.
O'Quinn's continuing development will be a story as the season winds down.
Either way, O'Quinn has improbably made it.