It will be Brooklyn against Queens on Thursday night at the Garden, Bishop Loughlin against Christ the King, when Tyson Walker and Markquis Nowell share the Sweet 16 stage.
Two overlooked guards coming out of high school, neither considered a high-major prospect.
Nowell was supposedly too small. Walker wasn’t good enough.
But they will be among the main attractions in the East Regional semifinals at MSG when No. 3 Kansas State takes on seventh-seeded Michigan State with an Elite Eight berth on the line.
“It’s just funny to see how we’re in a March Madness game playing against each other,” K-State’s Nowell said on Wednesday. “I grew up playing in parks with him. I just want to give a big shout-out to New York City for breeding tough and gritty guards and just give him a shout-out.”
The two have taken similar paths to this point. Both enjoyed strong high school careers and went the mid-major route, Nowell at Arkansas Little Rock and Walker at Northeastern.
They both transferred up, Nowell to Kansas State and Walker to Michigan State. And they are both enjoying memorable seasons.
A Harlem native generously listed at 5-foot-8, Nowell was a key to the Wildcats’ surprising season, averaging 17.1 points and 7.8 assists, as they went from being picked last in the powerhouse Big 12 to reaching the second weekend of the tournament.
Walker, Michigan State’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, came up big in a second-round upset of No. 2 Marquette, pouring in 21 points.
The 6-1 Westbury, L.I., product nearly doubled his scoring output from a year ago and was an All-Big Ten second-team selection.
“It’s really awesome,” said Joe Arbitello, Walker’s coach at Christ the King. “I was at Outback Steakhouse watching Markquis play, rooting for him like he was a Christ the King kid. This is a great showcase for their talent.”
While the soft-spoken Walker seemed a bit overwhelmed in the spotlight on Wednesday, the focus of reporters’ questions during a press conference, Nowell seemed to be soaking it all in. He had never played in the Garden before, only visiting as a spectator on a handful of occasions to watch the Knicks or the Big East Tournament.
Kansas State was given the Knicks’ locker room, and he was stationed in the right corner where Carmelo Anthony, one of his favorite players growing up, used to sit.
“I hope his shooting comes off on me,” Nowell, an All-Big 12 first-team selection, joked.
He added: “I feel like I’ve overcome a lot of odds. Just being at a mid-major school a couple years ago, not knowing what my future may hold, but just sticking that out, grinding, just trusting in my work. But I wouldn’t say I proved a lot of people wrong, I proved myself right.”
Walker could say the same. Arbitello recalled high-major coaches telling him his guard wasn’t good enough to play big-time college basketball.
Then those same coaches came back to him when Walker entered the transfer portal two years ago. He found a home at Michigan State and has become a March star, hoping to lead the Spartans to an unlikely Final Four.
“He’s the best two-way player I’ve had probably since Gary [Harris], where he can do it on both ends,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “And that’s so valuable to a team, and it’s so good to be able to tell other scorers that he can get you 30 on some nights and he can shut down the other players.”
Izzo went on to say that Walker doesn’t have that over-the-top swagger that New York City guards are known for.
Nowell certainly does.
His Twitter handle is “Mr. New York City” and his profile includes him saying, “I run NY.”
He laughed when reminded of that.
“It’s just the confidence that I have in myself,” Nowell said with a smile. “I made a promise to myself back when I was 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 just reminds me every day that I wake up that I still have more work to do.”