Kyle O’Quinn’s Hard Work Off The Court Paying Off

There were times last season when Kyle O’Quinn wasn’t K.O., the gregarious, cajoling, joking, heart-on-his-sleeve, hustling player that has been a locker room and fan favorite throughout his NBA career.

The Knicks were losing more than they were winning. O’Quinn’s minutes were inconsistent as first-year coach Jeff Hornacek navigated a new roster.

And the death of his beloved father, Tommie, in a 2015 car accident still gave him emotional pause from time to time.

O’Quinn knew it was time to go back to the basics, time to do the things that made the kid from South Jamaica, Queens and Norfolk State an NBA dream come true story.

“Kyle called and said he wanted to do everything he could to have the best season of his career,’’ Joe Abunassar, founder of IMPACT Basketball, and O’Quinn’s trainer for years told

“I knew Kyle would do the work. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever worked with. But we talked about him doing the work before we got on the court.’’

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When O’Quinn arrived at IMPACT’s California training facility in early July, he was at his ideal playing weight of 260 pounds.

K.O. was ready for whatever Abunassar and assistant Tyler Farias were going to throw at him. And they threw Aroldis Chapman fastballs at the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center:

Weight training, cardio workouts that consisted of grueling and relentless down-and-backs (“He doesn’t like the treadmill so we ran,’’ said Farias. “Boy did we run.”) pilates, pool work, footwork, full body workouts, running sand hills, Plyometrics, pool workouts, protein shakes, touch shot shooting drills and full court scrimmages with other NBA players such as Kyle Lowry and Jared Dudley.

The results?

O’Quinn is averaging career-bests in points (6.8), shooting (59.3-percent), rebounding (5.8) and assists (2.0) on 17 minutes per games. He’s cemented his place as Enes Kanter’s backup, no small task after center Willy Hernangomez was named to the All-Rookie team last season.

“I came in with a clear mind just expecting to really put a lot on myself,’’ O’Quinn told me. “I trusted in my work, you know, ‘Hashtag, Trust Your Work.’

“Just trusting in the work I put in in the offseason. And I got a good group of guys I can trust in, guys I can go to before games or after games and voice to them what I can’t voice to the media.

“It’s not always smiles but for the most part you, want to have a smile on your face for the fans because at the end of the day they’re supporting you up and down.”

O’Quinn’s value goes beyond the court. In addition to his shot blocking (1.1) and dirty work in the paint, O’Quinn has emerged as a locker room leader.

No teammate or reporter is safe from O’Quinn’s quick wit. He often usurps the Knicks’ terrific media relations man, Gregg Schwartz, by announcing when the locker room is closed to the media before games.

He drives a matte black pickup truck with the name ‘Black Ops’ proudly displayed on the front hood. When it comes to joking and cajoling, he could be a covert op.

“One of my jobs here is to try to bring a positive attitude every day,’’ O’Quinn said. “Guys rely on me to be an easy going, locker room guy and keeping a smile on my face will affect somebody else. You never know how much it might affect other guys until they leave or they really need you that day.

“They know they got to be on their toes. I’m not two different people but they know I’m going to bring something to the table.’’

O’Quinn, who will turn 28 in March and is in his sixth season, is smoothly making a transition to the veteran presence. He said his NBA experience has been similar to his career at Norfolk State.

It wasn’t until his junior and senior seasons that he emerged as a leader. In 15th-seeded Norfolk State’s 86-84 upset of Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, O’Quinn scored 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and became the quote of the tournament.

“We even messed up my bracket,” he said.

That’s when O’Quinn began working with Abunassar, who saw a profound change in the big man over the summer.

“He became a real pro,’’ Abunassar said. “I’ve never seen a guy make a leap on the court before they make it off the court. Kyle did that.’’

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