The early summer heat rays of the Havana sun swelter Marco Banegas-Flores as he contemplates what the next step of his athletic — and overall professional — path will be.
Many people in Banegas-Flores’ position would be partying the Cuban nights away; the dream of walking the stage and grasping an undergraduate degree from Northeastern has just become a reality for the Dorchester-native.
But instead of sporting a Cubano and trumpeting his achievements, the point guard has come to a decision that has been more than a year in the making: After graduating from Northeastern in just three years, Banegas-Flores will return to the basketball court to play out his final year of NCAA eligibility, and in doing so he will pursue a master’s degree.
But that basketball court will not be century-old Matthew’s Arena, whose ancient steel beams and iron girders Banegas-Flores has called home for his entire college career. Instead, he will bring his skills to tiny Costello Gymnasium and state of the art Tsongas Arena of UMass Lowell, where he will play for former Northeastern assistant coach Pat Duquette.
On Aug. 29, Duquette announced Banegas-Flores would be the River Hawks newest player, joining the team as a graduate-transfer.
The addition of Banegas-Flores gives a Lowell team with only one other true point guard on the roster – incoming freshman Lance Crawford — an experienced upper-classman who can provide guidance to the River Hawks six incoming freshman guards, and experienced, heady play at the point.
“It’s a good situation for us. We’re in a much different situation than Northeastern right now,” the second-year head coach said. “We’re building this thing from scratch; we’ve got a lot of young players.
“I need somebody with experience. I need somebody with toughness. Those are the things that stand out the most to me. His potential leadership ability as well.”
The situation seemed just as good for the former Husky. Marco knew his long-term goal was to play professional ball somewhere in the world. It was in the second of his three-year career at Northeastern, a year in which he went from filling in at starting point guard to fighting for minutes off the bench, that he realized staying with Northeastern may not allow him to reach that goal.
“I just realized with what I want to do going further after college, which is professional basketball, I needed to make a move,” Banegas-Flores said. “For me, it wasn’t going to happen at Northeastern. For a number of reasons, I just felt in my heart it wouldn’t happen at Northeastern.”
When he first started meeting with Banegas-Flores in early August, Duquette expected that additional playing time was one of those reasons. He will likely get that too. While Duquette said it was too early to determine his upcoming rotation, he did say that Banegas-Flores’ improved skills will open up on-court opportunities.
“He’s been coached by Bill and his staff for more than three years and I know the great job they do identifying and developing players,” Duquette said. “I knew Marco, but I feel after his experience at Northeastern, he’s going to be even better than when I coached him.”
Having a previous relationship with Duquette, whom he said he felt closer to than any of his other coaches at Northeastern, also reaffirmed Banegas-Flores decision.
“We kind of forged a relationship,” Banegas-Flores said. “I felt more comfortable with him than any of the other coaches on [Northeastern’s] staff. To be able to do that in a limited amount of time meant a lot to me and spoke to his character.”
But it was Banegas-Flores’ academic reason for transferring which impressed Duquette above all others. (more…)