Derek McDuffie bought a house in Paterson, New Jersey with the dream of his kids having a childhood like his own, when neighbors often came to his childhood home and played sports.
To replicate that experience, McDuffie had a blacktop laid in his backyard for a basketball court with two hoops. Sierra McDuffie, one of Derek McDuffie’s two daughters, practiced her skills to help earn a spot on Division II Felician University’s team from 2012-16 before becoming a Temple graduate manager before last season. Her younger brother Markis McDuffie, 20, is a junior forward for Wichita State, the No. 16 team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
Temple will play the first of its two matchups against Wichita State on Thursday at the Liacouras Center, where at least 25 family members will see the siblings. The Owls will travel to face Wichita State on Feb. 15.
When the American Athletic Conference voted to add Wichita State in April, players, coaches and analysts considered the implications of the Shockers men’s basketball program joining the league on a streak of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. But Sierra McDuffie just wanted to find out when she would be able to see her brother play in person for the first time since the 2016 Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
“That was my biggest thought, and I was wondering, ‘Are we going to go to them, or they come to us?’” Sierra McDuffie said in November. “I haven’t been to Wichita yet for a home game and I heard their home games are fantastic, like the crowd is crazy…so I can’t wait to go experience it.”
Each Wichita State player is given an allotment of four tickets for each game for family and friends, Derek McDuffie said. Because only two other Shockers besides Markis McDuffie are from the East Coast, his teammates gave him their tickets for Thursday’s game so more of his family members can attend.
They did the same when Wichita State played Seton Hall University on Dec. 19, 2015, in Newark, New Jersey, and about 30 family members attended, Derek McDuffie said.
On Thursday, they’ll watch Markis McDuffie face redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown, his former high school teammate at St. Anthony in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“It’s going to be great,” Markis McDuffie said at American Athletic Conference Basketball Media Day on Oct. 16. “It’s exciting to have a new team like us in the conference, and just to play against these guys local to where I’m from is great.”
Markis McDuffie was 5 or 6 years old when his father laid the blacktop in his backyard, Derek McDuffie said. In addition to basketball, Markis McDuffie played baseball growing up and was a pitcher like his dad, who played at Voorhees College in South Carolina.
Both he and Sierra McDuffie, however, shifted their primary focus to basketball after they had growth spurts. Their father coached them until high school and took them to work out with a trainer after some of their high school practices, Derek McDuffie said.
Markis and his twin sister Mońe are close, Sierra McDuffie said. But he formed a different type of bond with Sierra through basketball.
“He had my family to talk to like my father and uncles and everything like that, but me and him could just combine together, play against each other,” Sierra McDuffie said.
While Thursday will be a family reunion for the McDuffies, both siblings have jobs to do.
As a graduate manager, Sierra McDuffie has to help with game preparation. She is assigned to help an assistant coach for each game.
Before the Owls’ 85-57 win against Connecticut on Sunday, for example, Sierra McDuffie helped assistant coach Aaron McKie prepare by making clips from one of the Huskies’ past games. She also takes night classes three times per week as she works toward earning her master’s in sports business. She plans to graduate in May.
Markis McDuffie will try to help the Shockers win their third straight game. Wichita State (17-4, 7-2 The American) is a top-25 Ratings Percentage Index team and in second place in the conference as it tries to make its seventh straight NCAA Tournament.
Markis McDuffie, who led the Shockers in scoring and rebounding last season, missed the first 11 games of the 2017-18 season due to a stress fracture in his left foot. Since his return, the Shockers are 8-2.
For Derek McDuffie and his wife Sandra, Thursday is a night to celebrate their children’s accomplishments.
“It’s a great atmosphere to go out, it’s good to watch the game,” Derek McDuffie said. “I’m really more proud of the fact that both of my kids are there, great position[s] and having an opportunity to experience this.”