Despite progress being made every year HBCU sports world, there are only two active players on NBA rosters right now. They are former Norfolk State University baller Kyle O’Quinn, who is now on the Philadelphia 76ers as they search for their first NBA Championship since 1983. Meanwhile, Tennessee State student Robert Covington is on the Houston Rockets after spells with the Sixers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Center O’Quinn was the recipient of the Lou Henson Award and MEAC Player of the Year award in 2012 and has had his famous No. 10 shirt retired by the Norfolk State Spartans.

O’Quinn had previously wanted to pursue a career in football, that was even after earning a scholarship. However, he kept working on basketball and at the end of his studies, graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. Before leaving, O’Quinn’s performances saw the Spartans enter the famous NCAA tournament thanks to the side winning the MEAC tournament title. Two firsts in the school’s history.

The tournament saw Norfolk State, the 15th seed, up against number two seed Missouri. O’Quinn recorded an impressive 26 points and 14 rebounds in a famous win that shook the college basketball scene and made national headlines.

After playing 129 games for the Spartans, he averaged 12.5 PPG, 8.5 rebounds and 2.19 blocked shots – the New York Knicks drafted him in the second round with the 49th pick. Now with the Sixers, who are the 66/1 in the basketball betting to win the NBA Championship, he has never forgotten his HBCU roots.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” said O’Quinn. “I think kids at the bigger schools, they really miss out on the true college experience by not going to an HBCU.” 

The center is still the last player to be drafted into the NBA from a HBCU since David Young. A North Carolina Central student, Young was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2004 but never played a game in the NBA. The NBA has a long and storied history with HBCU athletes with the likes of Charles Oakley, Ben Wallace and Sam Jones all having stellar careers.

Oakley and Wallace are generation-defining big men and are remembered fondly by NBA fans. However, the gold standard of HBCU alumni is undoubtedly Jones. Drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1957, the shooting guard went on to win 10 NBA Championships, the second most of any player – one behind teammate Bill Russell.

Known for his ability to hit big clutch shots, he led the Celtics in scoring during three separate seasons and was one of only three Celtics players to win eight consecutive NBA titles. In 1984, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and his Boston jersey number is retired.

No HBCU player has hit those heights since, but current representative O’Quinn is a great ambassador. He knows what it is like to struggle for a dream and to see it come true.