Kwane Taylor played with him and remembers his funny voice and antics, and his skills on the court.
His coach doesn’t step onto a gymnasium floor anywhere without thinking of him.
They remember Marquell “Quelly” Banks, the popular 13-year old killed by gun violence in 2011, and a former player with the premier traveling squad of young New Haven basketball stars, the New Haven Heat.
Click the video to see Marquell’s acrobatic winning basket in a tournament in Virginia only months before he was killed.
Monday night, the New Haven Heat’s 7th, 8th, and 10th grade teams got together at their home court, the venerable Farnam Neighborhood House in Fair Haven, to scrimmage and remember Quelly, to whom the current season is dedicated. This year, a scholarship has been established in his name.
Monday’s scrimmage highlighted the widespread and lingering effects of gun violence. The New Haven Heat has been touched not only by Marquell’s death, but by at least two others.
Tamar Williams, the first recipient of the new memorial scholarship, is the cousin of a 16-year-old killed earlier this month. Rick Kennedy, who is coaching in the program for the first time, lost his son to gun violence in 2011.
A Coach & Teammate Remember
Frank Redente Jr. coached Quelly when he was on the team and is back again with a winning New Haven Heat team of 8th graders.
As the 8th and 10th grade teams scrimmaged energetically on Monday night at the Farnam House gym, Redente (at right in photo), along with Kwane (at left), now a star point guard with the current edition of the team, demonstrated how Marquell’s number, 5, appears on their warm-up shirts.
No player on the Heat is ever going to wear that number again on the back of a game jersey, as it was officially retired.
“I spoke of him at a fundraiser as the sixth man [on our team], and I feel that way all the time. Every time I step into the gym, I think of him,” said Redente.
Kwane, an 8th grader who attends Betsy Ross Magnet School, and who has established himself as the premier point guard on the team, said he misses his teammate.
“He was a friend on the court and off. We had communication without saying anything,” said Kwane.
Kwane said in particular he remembers his friend’s comic voice and his antics, some of which played out on the court, according to Redente.
During one game, Marquell was playing with perhaps a bit too much playground abandon, recalled Coach Redente. “He ran someone down like a truck,” and was cited for an offensive foul, well earned.
“Why’d you do that?” Redente remembered querying Marquell.
The answer: “He was in my way.”
A New Scholarship
Redente took last year off from the program because of personal illness and to follow his own son’s sports career. Redente said the spirit of Marquell Banks was a big factor in his desire to return and reinvigorate the program.
“In order for me to put this program back together, Marquell had to be part of it,” he said.
That meant also establishing a scholarship in the young man’s memory.
Tamar, the recipient of the inaugural Marquell Banks Scholarship was also scrimmaging with Kwane and his other teammates Monday night as the 8th-graders warmed up to play the taller 10th-graders. The scholarship helps him cover the uniform and travel expenses players pay.
Tamar is a guard, like Kwane and like Marquell. Redente described him not only as a talented player but a straight A student at the Benjamin Jepson School.
Williams is also the cousin of Torrence Gamble, Jr., whose violent death earlier this month, on the heels of the shooting death of Taijhon Washington, has galvanized new mentoring and other programs to engage young teens.
These intense traveling teams, which require eight to 10 hours of practice a week, and tournaments on weekends throughout the year, do exactly that, according to both Tamar and Coach Redente.
“It keeps me out of trouble,” said Tamar.
This season, the team has restored a vigorous weekend travel schedule to tournaments whose aim is to to showcase the elite players to high school and college coaches.
Tamar scored 11 points in the most recent tournament in Neptune, New Jersey two weeks ago, shocking a nationally ranked team of the same age range.
“We thundered out of nowhere,” said Tamar.
Click here for a team profile and the story of their thundering heroics in the recent tournament where the eighth grade New Haven Heat made it into the championship bracket at the April 18 tournament in Neptune.
Redente coaches the 8th-grade team, and he was able to bring back 14-season Wilbur Cross Coach Jimmy Reynolds (pictured) to coach the 10th-graders.
For Reynolds, it was a return to his roots, to where he had first coached. For another coach, fabled city Amateur Athletic Union coach Rick Kennedy, it is a first experience at Farnam with 7th-graders.
Kennedy’s son, T.J. Mathis, a successful college basketball player, was killed at age 25 in a botched robbery attempt in September, 2011.
Kennedy said coaching is about more than imparting basketball skills. “We do it not so much to win games but to make leaders,” Kennedy said.
Redente said that while basketball gives the kids an opportunity to play at a very high level—and maybe be noticed by Division One and Two coaches—there’s much more going on.
The discipline involved in doing well at school and playing so much pays off in high school and beyond. “They [his New Haven Heat players] area almost always successful in high school because they have the balance,” Redente said.
That translates into many of the younger members of traveling teams becoming captains of their high school teams, Kennedy added.
Because of the need, Redente said hopes are to expand the four New Haven Heat travel teams from 7th through 10th grades, to 4th through 10th grades. The number of kids offered the intensive basketball and character-building experience would increase from 65 to about 250, he said.
“‘I am my brother’s keeper’ is the motto of our team,” said Redente.