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Badger of Courage: Rosedale native has no regrets about leaving Queens before high school

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What if I had gone to Christ the King, like I always planned? he asks himself. What if I got a scholarship to St. John's University, like I always dreamed? he ponders.But the harder he pushes those thoughts together, the easier they fall apart."I try to picture it," Hughes said. "But I can never draw a clear picture in my head."One doesn't need to be an artist to form those thoughts as a youngster. Christ the King and St. John's are two attractive destinations for a basketball player growing up in Queens. But Hughes, the starting point guard on the No. 10-ranked Wisconsin men's basketball team, left Rosedale long ago. And he doesn't really have designs on ever coming back on a permanent basis again."Every time I go back home, I want to leave within three days," said the 6-foot sophomore.Hughes left New York City after eighth grade. He was already a budding basketball star then, holding his own against the likes of Edgar Sosa and Curtis Kelly in AAU with, first, the Springfield Rifles and then Artie Cox' squad before it was called Team Odom. But there were off-the-court issues. Hughes was falling in with the wrong crowd. He was staying out late. His family worried he would become just another casualty of urban New York City - a phenomenal talent in basketball and football who would crash and burn instead of achieve his potential.Many players from the city end up in prep schools during or after high school. Hughes did one better - he left for St. John's Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., before ninth grade. His family was close to Joe Bostic, a youth coach from southeast Queens, who had sent athletes from the community to St. John's - not the one in Jamaica - back in the 1970s. Hughes would play point guard and quarterback for the military academy. But, most importantly, he would learn how to be a man."Anytime you go away to school - whether it's high school or college - it helps out your maturity," said Eric Barnett, Hughes' uncle and mentor, as well as the Campus Magnet HS football coach.St. John's, which is in a rural part of Wisconsin ("They have big trees; New York has big building," Hughes said), did that for Hughes. There were 6 a.m. wake-up calls and constant marching, in full military regalia, between classes. There was discipline, a word he might not have learned the meaning of if he had stayed in Rosedale."It was pretty hardcore military," Hughes said. "The hardest part was getting used to people yelling in your face for no reason."He overcame it. Hughes set records at St. John's in basketball and football. Barnett said he could have played Division I football, too."He's a legend out there now," said Barnett, who took Hughes in as almost a son when his parents broke up. "And they had some phenomenal ballplayers out there."Hughes chose Wisconsin over almost every Big Ten school, as well as some from the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference. But coming closer to home was never an option - the Midwest is his adopted home now, big trees and all. Hughes has made a major impact for the Badgers after playing only 7.7 minutes per game as a freshman. He is second on the team in scoring (12.3 points per game) and third in the Big Ten in steals (2 per game). Hughes leads Wisconsin in assists (71), but coach Bo Ryan believes he should have even more."His value has shown simply by the improvements he's made," Ryan said. "If he could just get an assist every time he hits a player who gets fouled, he'd have a lot more."Hughes handles the ball a ton for the Badgers, who are legitimate national championship contender. He says his team's spot near the top of the national polls is "overwhelming." But that's OK. He has the poise of a New York City point guard with a military background. Scary combination for the opposition.Hughes says there's one major thing he learned from St. John's Northwestern Military Academy - and it definitely applies to his duties as a point guard for Wisconsin."Becoming a man," he said, "is learning from your mistakes."Leaving New York City was certainly not one of them.Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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