For players from smaller conferences, the NCAA tournament is a chance to become a Kyle O’Quinn All-Star. Back in 2012, O’Quinn, then a Norfolk State senior, wasn’t on many draft radar screens. That all changed when he led the 15-seed Spartans to a stunning upset over 2-seed Missouri, scoring 26 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. O’Quinn ended up being selected in the second round of that year’s draft, and went on to carve out a career as a reserve big man. He will make well over $20 million by the time his NBA career is over.
Here are four guys from smaller schools looking for their O’Quinn moments (and money) this week:
Joel Bolomboy, Weber State
Damian Lillard’s alma mater strikes again. Bolomboy is an interesting story (his father is from the Congo; his mother is from Russia) and a ridiculous athlete. At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, he has NBA-caliber size and speed, and has even flashed a 3-point shot as a senior. The Big Sky MVP, Bolomboy is also the conference’s all-time leader in rebounding — a skill that will translate at any level.
Stefan Jankovic, Hawaii
Athletic, 6-foot-11 big men who can shoot 3s aren’t supposed to be at low-major schools. Jankovic, the Big West Player of the Year, is a Missouri transfer who averages 15.7 points and 6.6 rebounds on 56 percent shooting, but the key number is his 40 percent clip from 3 on 2.5 attempts per game. He’s a poor man’s Donatas Motiejunas — a mobile big man who can score inside and out, though there are questions about his rebounding.
A.J. English, Iona
English puts up numbers that any stats guy would love — 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.2 assists on 43 percent shooting, and 37 percent from beyond the arc on 9.1 (!) attempts a game. He’s the engine behind Iona’s up-tempo offense, and the Gaels will need him at his best to pull off an upset against Iowa State. He doesn’t have great athleticism, but his size (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) and ability to run point will give him a chance to be a combo guard off the bench at the NBA level.
Reggie Upshaw, Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders start five 3-point shooters, and Upshaw has the best chance of transitioning to the NBA. At the next level, 3-and-D wing players are all the rage, and Upshaw has the skill set to defend multiple positions and knock down corner 3s. The concern is whether that shooting is sustainable — he made only 51 percent from the free-throw line this season, and he shot 29 percent from 3 last season.
This piece originally appeared in the March 16, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.