The Rod Wave: Markquis Nowell is an inspiration to short kings everywhere


Isaiah Thomas. Nate Robinson. Muggsy Bogues. These are just some of the popular basketball guards that have made a name for themselves at the NBA level despite all of them standing at 5-foot-9 or below. Only 25 players in the history of the NBA have played at this height or shorter. 

And the 2023 NCAA Tournament has seen another short king rise to become one of the most interesting storylines in the tournament. With averages of 17.1 points and 7.8 assists this season, including a trip to the Sweet Sixteen after an impressive win over no. 6 Kentucky, he’s about to head to the Mecca of basketball, an arena where legends are made. 

That man is Markquis Nowell. Standing at 5-foot-8, his height has not stopped him from making an incredible impact at the lead guard position. In two games at the point, he dropped 17 points and a staggering 14 assists against No. 14 Montana State and followed that up with a 27-point and nine-assist performance against Kentucky, an outing that saw the Wildcats guard make a Ballislife-level highlight reel with flashy passes and some incredible deep shots from way beyond the arc. 

He’s gotten co-signs from the likes of Thomas himself and he’s about to head back to his home state for a chance to head to the Elite Eight, an opportunity that Nowell will certainly cherish considering he’s from Harlem. But the thing that makes Nowell such an inspiration to short kings everywhere shouldn’t be the performances or the recognition from established names in the industry, it’s the journey that wasn’t carved out on some of the top stages in basketball or in a top conference. 

For three out of his five seasons of college basketball, he’d play for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Sun Belt Conference. For two years, it was a sub-.500 level basketball for Nowell, yet he didn’t give up and the work didn’t stop. It may not have been the bright lights that he’s seeing now, but the talent was there with a scoring average of 14.2 points and around five assists. 

His play mirrored the mantra that he lives by, “Heart over Height.” Just like Thomas, he showed fearlessness when driving to the basket against bigger defenders and confidence as a pesky defender with averages of about two steals in his last four seasons of D1 ball. Those attributes would carry on to the next level of college basketball in a Power Five conference with the Kansas State Wildcats. 

Now, in 2023, his preparation and attitude have yet to change, paying huge dividends for his progress in his fifth season of college basketball. The late hours would continue, including a notable night on Christmas day of this season where he was getting up shots in the Wildcats’ empty arena. The work would go on, as would the doubt from his spectators. How would a guard, dubbed a “little kid” by Kentucky coach John Calipari, be able to put up this level of production and earn an All-American selection in the process? 

It’s all a part of the mindset that he’s stuck with throughout his journey; everything from his preparation, the dedication to his faith and the spirit that’s displayed every time he steps on the hardwood should be an inspiration to every guard who aspires to play at the professional level, short or tall. It’s a characteristic that even guards at the next level have yet to showcase, but Nowell has had those intangibles ever since he graced the court in high school. 

Some might mistake the tenacity he displays on the court for cockiness or arrogance. Critics who judge him from the sidelines may deem those flashy passes to be unnecessary, but that’s not what it is at all. As Jim Spanarkel perfectly pointed out during Kansas State’s win over Kentucky, those flashy passes you see from the Harlem native aren’t just for show. They’re for a purpose and there’s a reason why his assist rate of 41.4% is second in the country. He’s that polished of a passer with excellent court vision to complement. 

They don’t know the mental or physical barriers that Nowell had to combat to elevate his game to this position. Only he can quiet those doubters, and his game, voice and demeanor have been major in doing so. 

Ultimately, those critics are always going to be there and he’s always going to have those questions about his height wherever his basketball journey takes him. However, with what he’s shown so far, he’s just gotta continue to do what he’s done throughout his career. It’s going to serve him well and once his basketball journey is complete, and it may just be the perfect framework for a guard looking to take their game to the next level. 

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