NEW YORK — Kansas State senior guard Markquis Nowell remembered playing against Michigan State senior guard Tyson Walker when they were playing high school ball in the five boroughs. Nowell spent time at Bishop Loughlin and Walker played at Christ the King.
It’s been a little bit of time since the two have faced one another, but when the Spartans and Wildcats tipoff at Madison Square Garden in the Sweet 16 on Thursday it will be a chance to revive the old New York rivalry.
“He’s not the first (former high school opponent), but it is definitely cool because we played each other a lot of times. But playing on this stage is even better,” Walker said on Wednesday following Michigan State’s practice at MSG.
Nowell, a Harlem native, and Walker, who hails from Westbury out on Long Island, are just a few of the local products participating in the NCAA Tournament’s East Rionals this week in New York. However, the pair is by far the biggest draws on their respective teams, which is made more impressive by the fact that they’re a pair of transfer players from mid-major programs.
Walker transferred in from Northeastern and has been an integral part of the Spartans’ run this season. He has averaged 14.6 points per game and 2.8 assists per game while being a big asset on the defensive side of the ball.
Nowell has been one of the Wildcats’ best players this year after making the jump from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock before the 2021-22 season. He has led the team in assists (7.8) and steals (2.4) along with having the second most points per game on the team with 17.1.
While the success took some time to come for both, the two players have taken winding roads to their current success. And that’s something Nowell felt bonded them.
“I feel like we have similar journeys. He grew up similar background like me, and we just worked hard,” Nowell said. “We eliminated all distractions, and we put basketball first. That’s why you get to see Tyson out of Michigan State, get to see José Alvarado in the NBA. Not a lot of people get to make it where we come from, so that’s why I wanted to shout him out for making it to this stage.”
Walker added: “It definitely started off rough. Beginning of the season last year, I was kind of struggling and kind of figured it out as the season went on, and now just getting back to my old self.”
Nowell recalled growing up and playing against Walker in local parks. The Michigan State guard said that he faced off with his Kansas State counterpart several times during his sophomore and junior years in high school.
Both players agreed that the fact two New York products are playing on such a big stage was special and Nowell seemed to take pride in the fact Walker was there with him. However, Walker will be just another opponent.
“We are rivals, but we grew up playing against each other, and when we step on the court, it’s going to be nothing but competition,” Nowell said.
Thursday’s Sweet 16 showdown will be just the eighth time the two programs have faced one another all-time and the first that they’ve ever played in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State has a 5-2 record against Kansas State and Walker is hoping that success continues.
“I feel like the season has flew back, so we don’t want this to be our last game,” he said. “You still want to have more practices, still want to be able to play another game, so just put some more good halves together.”