Kyle O’Quinn had an important message for teammate Norvel Pelle.
Entering the Sixers’ 106-86 preseason win over the Detroit Pistons in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, the 6-foot-10, 216-pound reserve center delivered 13 points (6-for-7 shooting), four rebounds, and five blocks in 12 minutes. He blocked a dunk to bring his teammates on the bench to their feet.
After the game, O’Quinn, a league veteran who’s ahead of Pelle on the depth chart, didn’t want to talk to Pelle about technique, or to dissect plays, or to discuss in detail anything that happened on the court.
Instead, he wanted to encourage Pelle to take a moment - he probably didn’t have time for more than one -and appreciate the night.
“I mean we’ve all been in that situation where you’re trying to get on the floor and impress, even your family at home," O’Quinn said Wednesday after practice at the Sixers’ facility in Camden, “and I told him after the game: ‘That was a very impressive night. Cherish it.’ ”
“I don’t think I’ve been that excited for a guy since college," O’Quinn added. "It was heartwarming. He had a great night, and he should be proud of himself.”
Pelle signed a two-way contract with the Sixers in July after emerging as a standout defender for the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ G League affiliate. A two-way deal lets players split their seasons, spending as many as 45 days with an NBA team and the remainder in the G League.
Now, Pelle’s turning to his next goal: earning a full-time roster spot.
A performance like Tuesday’s could help him get there eventually, and give him confidence that the locker room roots for his success. Pelle told reporters after Tuesday’s game that he loved the energy from the bench, but the strong show of support didn’t surprise him.
“It’s a family base, a brotherhood," he said. "If one person does good, everybody’s happy. We just build off that energy.”
How did he learn to block dunks like that, and inspire such a reaction?
“Honestly I can’t even tell you," Pelle said. “It’s second nature. I’ve been doing it for a long time.”
The 26-year-old has taken a winding, unconventional, and occasionally shaky path to the NBA. Pelle spent his early childhood in the Caribbean, first Antigua and then St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he told the Los Angeles Times in 2014. When he was seven, his parents moved to the mainland to find better work, his father as a welder and his mother as the manager of a garden center at a Home Depot, he told the paper.
In high school near Long Beach, Calif., Pelle excelled on the court but struggled academically. He didn’t play college basketball due to eligibility issues. He played for the Blue Coats in 2014 and 2015, then in Europe and the Middle East before returning to the Sixers organization in 2018.
Last season, he broke out, averaging 11.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks for the Blue Coats. This season, he’s gotten playing time in all four of the Sixers’ preseason games, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks.
Pelle has another opportunity to impress Friday when the Sixers (4-0) play the Wizards in their final preseason matchup.