Marquis Barnett: The Second Half
By Tracee Loran
If life were played in two halves like the game of basketball, Marquis Barnett’s first half was short in minutes and long in suffering. The 19-year old Queens, NY native has endured more heartache and pain than most people three times his age. Homelessness: Along with his Mom and two siblings, Marquis has lived in four shelters in four different boroughs throughout New York City. Tragedy: Marquis’ brother Tavon, who was autistic, died in a fire that the young boy accidentally started when left unsupervised. Violence: Nearly four years ago, Marquis had to rescue his Mom from the claws of an abusive boyfriend who was choking the breath and life out of her.
Fortunately, Marquis’ story does have a second half – one filled with hope, love, and redemption. And in his second half, he is surrounded by amazing people who have shown what compassion truly means such as his long-time girlfriend, Shalyce Blue; his UWANTGAME mentor, Rodrick Seay; and his Cardozo High School basketball coach, Ron Naclerio, who championed for Marquis to play ball on the collegiate level. Now a freshman at Quinnipiac University – light years away from previous strife – the 6 foot 8 forward is crashing boards for the Division-I squad on a full ride.
I caught up with Barnett at a recent QU game against St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY. What I discovered was not a young man who was scarred and angered by his harrowing past. (One might expect that and could possibly understand.) Instead, who stood before me was a mature young man with a commanding presence and a gentle spirit. His words were brief, but profound and showed that Marquis refrains from looking back and dwelling on negative circumstances. He’d much rather spend his time looking toward a more promising future.
TL: How did you manage to avoid the pitfalls that many young men often fall into?
MB: It was all about my Mother. She taught me how to be humble and stay positive in tough situations. I stick with that. [Also by] making good decisions.
TL: What kind of people have you surrounded yourself with?
MB: A lot of good people that helped me with food, clothes, and stuff like that throughout my high school days.
TL: What did you discover about humanity through your experiences?
MB: Treat people the way you want to be treated.
TL: And what lessons have you learned?
MB: A lot. Too much!
TL: What’s the number one lesson?
MB: Don’t complain. Stay positive.
TL: Because complaining gets you…
TL: What has the game of basketball meant to you?
MB: I love basketball. Basketball is life.
TL: And where would you be without it?
MB: I would be in the streets. My Mother couldn’t afford college, so I used basketball to get to college.
TL: This is National Mentoring Month. I know you have a very good relationship with you mentor, Rodrick. What has that relationship meant to you?
MB: That’s my man! He’s like my best friend; I text him all the time. He would give me money to get something to eat with my girlfriend. I would go over to his house. He had a tutor for me to help me with my SATs. She tutored me in math, so that was good.
TL: What would you say to young people to convince them to get a mentor?
MB: It’s good for now and the long run. Like he [Rod] has a lot of connections with a lot of different people.
TL: How did you get involved with UWANTGAME?
MB: I was at Cardozo and my head coach brought us into that program. And I was like, “Alright.” And I just went with it.
TL: You said, “It sounds good.”
MB: Uh huh.
TL: What are your big dreams?
MB: I just want a good job in the future. That’s it.
TL: Do you have a career path you’re interested in?
MB: My major is Criminal Justice, but…
TL: You don’t know what you’re going to do with that.
MB: Right! (Laughs)
TL: When people look at Marquis Barnett what do you want them to see?
MB: That life is not over when things get rough.
TL: Finish this sentence. In five years I…
MB: …will be successful. Leading kids the right way, especially kids in my old neighborhood, and giving back to the community.
TL: Speaking of your old neighborhood. Your boys from Cardozo – what do you want them to gain from your experiences?
MB: Be positive. Take academics seriously. Take practice and basketball seriously, because it could lead you down a
TL: I heard Busta Rhymes’ son is your roomie? [Busta Rhymes’ son, T’Ziah Woods-Smith, also plays for QU.]
TL: Tell the truth; did you slip him your demo?
MB: (Laughs) Nah. I’m not a rapper. Just 2K [NBA 2K12 video game]
TL: How nice are you?
MB: I’m real nice. I’m Top Dog.
At half-time the contest was knotted up at 34. Both squads were playing well and each had the chance to pull off a victory. There was an air of uncertainty about the game’s conclusion; but after speaking with Rodrick during the break, I was convinced that regardless of the outcome, Marquis would stoically rebound and move on to the next.
TL: How much of Marquis’ story did you know before you met him?
RS: None. I met him on a Sunday, then the next Monday I Googled him just trying to find out what his stats were and how he was doing as far as high school basketball. And all of these articles came up; the Daily News and ESPN had done a piece on him. I read his story and that’s how I found out about him.
TL: What were your thoughts about all of that?
RS: “Wow!” was the first thing I thought, because I had no clue. Talking to him he seemed like a really mature guy; he seemed down to earth and he was having a good time with his friends. We started talking and he never mentioned it. He never brought it up. I asked him about it one day and he told me; he didn’t have a problem talking about it. He was like, “Yeah that’s what I gotta deal with, so I’m gonna deal with it.” So really mature beyond his years and I guess being in that situation he had to be, being the man of the house.
TL: When did you see your relationship evolve? Was there a defining moment?
RS: He texted me one day and he was like, “I gotta question about financial aid.” And I said, “What’s your question?” So I told him to call me. He called me and we talked. I didn’t want to push, so I let him warm up to me first. He would call or he would text every now and again. I went to a couple of his games and we began talking. He’s still kind of a shy guy, not real talkative. You kinda have to pull it out of him, but he was pretty quick to warm up.
TL: How long did it take before he sent that original text message?
RS: About two weeks. Not too bad. But he didn’t actually start speaking…it took about a month and a half.
TL: How has this mentorship relationship helped you?
RS: I’m glad I was able to do it, because although I wasn’t in the same situation as Marquis, I wish I had had someone to [mentor] me. I felt like I had a lot of information to give to him and help him in his transition from high school to college. And it’s been fun. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, so he’s been more like a younger brother. He would call and ask for advice and we would hang out. So it’s been good. It’s been a very fulfilling relationship.
TL: I can’t imagine all of the things that he’s been through during his 19 years. What have you taken from him and just how he’s handled everything?
RS: Don’t complain. I get that. We complain everyday about things we may have been going through. But I’ve never had to live in a shelter; I’ve never had to fight anyone off of my mother. Resilience. He stayed resilient and he’s like, “Man, I’m gonna be the first one in my family to go to college.” And he did it. We sat down and made some goals…and he was able to reach those goals.
I had a friend tutor him for the SATs and he [Marquis] was living in Staten Island. But he went to high school in Queens, so he would come to my house in Harlem. He would catch the train from Queens to Harlem; do two hours of tutoring and [go] all the way down to Staten Island. He never once complained like, “Nah I can’t make it, it’s too far, I don’t feel like doing it.” Never once complained. I bought him a burger and he was good to go. Just resilience. He’s very resilient. He persevered through all of it and it’s paid off.
TL: It says a lot about his character.
TL: I’m sure he appreciates you.
RS: Yeah he lets me know. He’s good about saying, “Hey man, thanks.” He’s not a man of many words, but I understand. I get it.
TL: What enjoyment do you get out of watching him play ball?
RS: It’s good because that same attitude that he has when you meet and talk to him carries over to the court. He doesn’t stop. He plays hard. Never argues a call. When he’s on the bench, he’s the loudest one on the bench cheering his teammates on. And [whether] he plays or not, he’s the same guy. If he has a bad game he gets down, naturally, but he doesn’t let it bother him for too long. It definitely carries over. You can see that same strong will when he’s out there on the court.
TL: What can other people take away from Marquis?
RS: Think twice before you complain because it can always be worse. And if you want to do it you can do it. For the younger folks, try to get involved with mentorship organizations. There are a lot of them out there. Just be receptive.
TL: How important is mentoring?
RS: It’s a great opportunity for both parties involved. I became the male figure in Marquis’ life – or one of the prominent male figures in his life – because he didn’t have that at home. So it was just an opportunity to give him young man advice. And for me, I learned from him.
The Quinnipiac Bobcats lost to the St. Francis Terriers in a 1-point nail-biter, 73-72. Marquis’ time on the court was short and he didn’t get an opportunity to pad his stats that particularly day. But if Mr. Barnett’s history is any indication, a single game will not dictate future success. The Native New Yorker has proved to be a true warrior on and off the court. What exactly does this mean? That “The Fat Lady” hasn’t even warmed up yet.
NOTE: This story was originally written for UWANTGAME, a mentoring organization dedicated to student-athletes. Thanks to the Quinnipiac University Athletic Department and Hartford Courant for granting photo permission.