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Barnett’s new start to be at Quinnipiac

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Marquis Barnett, the rugged Cardozo forward who has faced more adversity in his young life than most deal with in a lifetime, spoke freely and without worry. There was joy in his voice, a satisfaction in an accomplishment — a Division I college basketball scholarship — that seemed like a dream just two years ago.

“I never thought this would happen,” the 6-foot-7, 240-pound Barnett, best known for his rebounding and shot-blocking, said May 9, hours after he verbally committed to Quinnipiac University and Coach Tom Moore.

Barnett, a third team All-Queens selection by the New York Post who helped Cardozo go undefeated in Queens AA and reach the PSAL Class AA semifinals, passed on visiting Central Connecticut State for Quinnipiac. Western Kentucky, Towson, Marist and Duquesne called in recent weeks, Cardozo Coach Ron Naclerio said, after Barnett’s memorable senior year and his impressive play in recent AAU tournaments with New Heights.

But Barnett didn’t need to see any other schools or meet any other coaches. He loved the Quinnipiac campus in Hamden, Conn., the large student center and felt a bond with Moore and his new teammates.

“For me, it’s more like a new beginning, a new start,” he said. “I’m not going to have to go through stress. It can be a better life for me.”

Barnett’s troubles have been well-documented.

He recently moved to Staten Island from a Lower East Side shelter, the third shelter in three years with his family, and has been making the four-hour, four-borough commute each way daily. Because of mold and flooding, his family was forced to move out of their Far Rockaway apartment and into the shelter. Last February, Tavon Turpin, his autistic 11-year-old half-brother, was killed in a fire he set when he was left unsupervised in their grandmother’s Coney Island home. He’s also had to help his mother, Francine Baker, get out of a physically abusive relationship that went on for several years.

“I just stayed positive through it all and it worked out,” he said.

When he landed at Cardozo two years ago from St. Raymond, his grades were a mess and his game a project. He worked tirelessly at both, spending extra time with tutors on his studies and hours after practice refining his basketball repertoire.

Last week, Naclerio sent a series of text messages to fellow teachers and school officials and even more came flowing back.

“He’s not well-liked at Cardozo, he’s loved at Cardozo,” Naclerio said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of kids reach the pinnacle of getting a scholarship, but when it officially happened today, it really made me feel good. He needed this so bad for what he’s gong through in his life. He was looking at schools not based on playing time or non-league games, he was looking at degrees and job opportunities. I’ve never had a kid like that.”

Based on the recent strides he’s made, Naclerio said he thinks Barnett could be an all-conference player by the time he’s an upperclassmen. One Division I assistant coach involved in Barnett’s recruitment said the power forward is still a work in progress offensively, but should be able to help in other areas quickly.

“He’ll have a chance to be what [former Transit Tech star] Rhamel Brown was for Manhattan in the MAAC this year — he got his points off playing hard,” the coach said. “Rebounding the ball is all about toughness and he has that.”

Barnett isn’t overly concerned. He’s dealt with too many obstacles to even worry about basketball. It’s gotten him to college and now is his chance to make it worthwhile.

“I love basketball, but playing basketball is going to be a hobby to me, even though it will be a full-time job,” he said. “I’m basically going to college to get a good-paying job to make sure my mother gets her own house. I want her to have a good life, not have to worry about no bills, nothing.”

“When I graduate college,” Barnett later said, “it’s gonna be something big — bigger than this.”

Updated 10:49 am, October 12, 2011
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