June 20, 2023 | 23:50
It’s all happening again. The doubts. The questions. The uncertainty.
Markquis Nowell has been here before. Several times, actually. He’s been told his whole life that his height would hold him back.
That was a major reason he didn’t attend a major Division I college straight out of high school. Now that’s why he might not be selected in Thursday’s NBA draft, at least according to the many mock draft projections.
It’s nothing new for the 23-year-old Harlem native and former Kansas State star.
“I use it as fuel, motivation to prove people who don’t believe in me wrong,” the 5-foot-7 Nowell told The Post in a phone interview. “It’s another chapter in the book, it’s another story for me to write to get to the NBA. I’m just happy that I’m even getting to show my talents to scouts.”
Nowell has spent much of his life proving these naysayers wrong.
He was a star high school basketball player at Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn and The Patrick School (NJ). He thrived at Arkansas-Little Rock, averaging 17.2 points as a sophomore.
He then transferred to Kansas State and led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight, putting on a show in his hometown at the Garden in two NCAA Tournament games last March.
He was second in the nation in assists (8.3) last season and set a tournament record with 19 assists in a dramatic Sweet 16 overtime win against Michigan State.
But that was college. This is different. At least that’s the explanation Nowell hears.
He has to prove himself again. It has motivated him.
At the start of the process, he checked out various mock drafts and used them as ammunition.
He remembered the guards picked over him and used slights to not only outwork those players, but crush them in team practice.
“I just wanted to show it [teams] that size doesn’t really matter when you play this game,” Nowell said. “It’s about how hard you work and how smart you are.”
In preparation for what lay ahead, Nowell sought out several short shifts for their insight and input.
He spoke with Muggsy Bogues, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas and former Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas.
He spoke with Jose Alvarado of the Pelicans, also a New York City native, Kemba Walker and former Knick Nate Robinson.
In fact, Alvarado helped Nowell find his agent, Ron Shade of the Octagon.
“It was kind of a reassurance thing,” Nowell said. “You want to build relationships with the people who did it before you. I wanted to see if they had any knowledge or wisdom that I can learn from and use throughout my career.
“I try to keep short shifts relevant,” he added. “There aren’t many of us in the NBA who play at a high level. I want to put on weight for them.”
Alvarado faced the same uphill battle that Nowell now faces.
Shade said there was a team that considered taking Alvarado late in the second round, but the team wanted to stash him overseas for a year.
The 6-foot Alvarado elected to become a free agent, signed a two-way deal with the Pelicans and later signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract.
“Both are guards that people felt were undersized. Both are guards that, going through the process, felt like they were things they lacked, but when they went through workouts, teams felt they offered more than expected,” Shade said.
Nowell attended 10 NBA workouts and made a point to show that his height wouldn’t hurt him at the next level on the defensive end.
He was a pest on defense. He was physical.
One team told Shade that Nowell had the best training of any guard they brought in. One scout praised Nowell’s shooting and passing but still wondered if his size was too much to overcome.
“It’s so hard to find someone like that [in the NBA]” said the scout. “Think Tremont Waters.”
Waters was drafted 51st overall by the Celtics in 2019 out of LSU, but appeared in just 40 games across four seasons with four different teams and is now playing overseas. Waters, at 5-foot-10, is taller than Nowell.
Jay Bilas, a college basketball and NBA draft analyst for ESPN, believes Nowell will find a niche for himself because of his overall package that was on display through a senior year in which he guided Kansas State to its most wins in a decade.
“He has to either get drafted or have his phone ring right away as soon as the draft is over because he can play. He can really play,” Bilas said. “The only thing he lacks is size. He is not a great player. But man, that guy can roll. He is an incredible passer. He is a competitor. He can score.
“I think he’s not only going to play in the NBA, but I think he has an opportunity to play for a while.”
Nowell is confident he’ll make it, whether he hears his name called or not.
He has come too far. He has worked too hard. Draymond Green, a notorious draft snub who went 35th overall in 2012, once said that it’s only the first day of your pro career.
In the end, what follows matters much more.
“My faith is high, my faith is strong,” Nowell said. “The film sessions, the work on the field, the mental work. I just feel like there’s no one out there that works harder than me. That’s where my confidence comes from.
“I will enjoy the night whether I am selected or not. It is a huge achievement for me and my family to have pushed through this whole process and made it this far.”