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Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell proved himself right en route to the Sweet 16 — Andscape

Get This Before It Disappears!


Get This Before It Disappears!

Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

NEW YORK — It’s generally seen as a no-no for a college basketball player to bring a phone on the court for practice. But it was protocol-be-damned for guard Markquis Nowell as the Harlem-born Kansas State senior entered the court at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, his mobile device held high as he panned the arena known as “The Mecca” to basketball fans around the world.

“It’s a blessing to be here,” Nowell said. “You hear all the great stories about historic performances of all-time NBA players and greats. I’m looking forward to being in this atmosphere.”

When Kansas State takes on Michigan State in the early East Region Sweet 16 game of the men’s NCAA tournament on Thursday (Florida Atlantic takes on Tennessee in the late game), the expectations will be high for Nowell to deliver in his hometown. The 5-foot-8 Nowell is the shortest player (along with Michigan State’s Steven Izzo) among the remaining teams, yet he’s arguably the biggest star from the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.

The attention Nowell will attract is justified considering he is the first player to tally at least 25 points and 20 assists in his first two NCAA tournament games since Jason Kidd did it for Cal Berkeley in 1993. Nowell is just one of two players since 1990 to record 40 or more points and 20 or more assists before the Sweet 16 (Murray State point guard Ja Morant was the other, in 2019).

For many basketball fans, Nowell’s 29 points, 9 assists and 3 steals in Sunday’s win over Kentucky — demonstrating unlimited range and amazing court vision — was quite the introduction to Mr. New York City.

Mr. New York City? Those are Nowell’s social media handles for Instagram (mr.newyorkcity) and Twitter (@MrNewYorkCityy) accompanied by a couple of equally boastful lines (“I Run Ny” and “Underestimate me so I can embarrass you”).

“It’s just the confidence that I have in myself,” Nowell said when asked about his lofty titles and bold proclamations. “I made a promise to myself in high school that I was going to do anything and everything in my power to be the best player that came out of New York.

“So I kind of keep that edge and that kind of reminds me every day that I wake up that I have more work to do.”

Kansas State forward David N’Guessan (left) and guard Markquis Nowell (right) celebrate during the second half against Montana State in the first round of the NCAA tournament at The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 17 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

If it sounds like Nowell is overly obsessed with his grind, there’s a good reason. It has to do with the first takes/initial impressions people make about him due to his size.

While listed at 5-8, Nowell is more than likely closer to 5-6. Nowell’s height emerged as a factor as he attempted to make a name for himself through high school.

“His dreams were very big at a young age: He wanted to be an NBA player,” said Edwin Gonzalez, who coached Nowell at Bishop Loughlin High School. “He was always told he was too small, but he’s always accomplished everything he set out to do because he has a big heart and big dreams.”

And his height emerged as a topic of discussion after Kentucky coach John Calipari, following Nowell’s dissection of his team’s defense on Sunday, called Nowell “the little kid.” Calipari was the target of social media backlash for the comment, which led him to connect with Nowell via social media on Monday to apologize.

“He congratulated me on a good game, on a great game,” Nowell said. “I congratulated him on his career and what he’s done at Kentucky and told him that I’d be happy to see him at the Hall of Fame one day … It was a cool exchange.”

That Calipari is now a convert, that’s all due to the work ethic Nowell has put in from an early age that continued throughout high school. 

“I remember a Friday night, there was a torrential storm and he called me at 7:30 and said, ‘Coach, can you get me in the gym?’ ” Gonzalez said. “The school’s in Brooklyn, he lives in Harlem. But he kept calling me. I came down from Manhattan to let him in the gym and he was soaking wet.”

That work ethic continued when he played his final high school season at The Patrick School in New Jersey where, despite his “Mr. New York” tag, he was a total mystery to the New Jersey program’s coach, Chris Chavannes.

“He applied and I had never heard of him,” Chavannes said. “I started to ask around and Shaheen Holloway, who was still an assistant at Seton Hall at the time, said, ‘Listen, Chris, you better look at this kid, because he can flat-out play.’

“He came here and he breathed, slept and ate basketball.”

Nowell did so with an edge and a failure-is-not-an-option mentality that Chavannes had rarely seen in a player. Only later would Chavannes learn why.

“He lived with me when he came to school here,” Chavannes said. “And he told me about the time his family was burned out of their apartment and had to go live in Central Park.”

So, when you understand where Nowell has been — forced to live in the 843-acre park just blocks from where he grew up on 109th Street and Lexington Avenue in East Harlem — you understand the work he puts in to get to where he wants to go.

“When you look at how rough he had it, his height is never going to be a deterrent,” Chavannes said. “With him it’s, ‘if you tell me I can’t do something, thank you for inspiring me. Now it’s going to get done.’ ”

Kansas State gurad Markquis Nowell reacts during the first half against Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament at The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 19 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

While Nowell’s immense talent was on display briefly at The Patrick School during an injury-plagued final high school season, major programs were initially skeptical he could play. So Nowell accepted an offer from Arkansas-Little Rock, where he averaged 13.8 points over three seasons.

Nowell got a taste of big-time college basketball when he transferred to Kansas State to play for Bruce Weber for the 2021-22 season with two years of eligibility remaining. While he averaged 12.4 points and 5 assists and earned a spot on the Big 12 All-Defensive Team, the Wildcats finished the season with a disappointing 14-17 record.

Weber resigned a day after Kansas State lost in the opening round of last year’s Big 12 tournament. Just more than a week later, Kansas State hired Jerome Tang, who had just finished his 19th season as an assistant at Baylor.

In an era of increased freedom for college players who occasionally bolt at the time of coaching changes, Nowell’s decision to remain at Kansas State was crucial to the Wildcats’ return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2018-19 season.

“The really cool thing about that — and I found this out a month or two after I got the job — was that Markquis had actually texted Gene Taylor, our athletic director, during the search and … given him my name,” Tang said. “We’re not here without Markquis Nowell staying.”

Nowell, in turn, isn’t here to make his Madison Square Garden debut on college basketball’s biggest stage if he didn’t strongly believe that he could become a star guard at a major program.

“I’ve overcome a lot of odds,” Nowell said. “Just … grinding, just trusting in my work.

“I wouldn’t say I proved a lot of people wrong,” he added. “I proved myself right.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.


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