- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2021

On the little basketball court at their house in Gaithersburg, Md., Anthony and Nendah Tarke pretended they played on some larger, grander stage.

The then 8-year-old and 5-year-old would set the kitchen microwave’s timer to 12 minutes, emulating an NBA quarter, keeping score for a full 48-minute game. Or they’d play first to 100 points, going for hours, fueled by their love of basketball and a competitive spirit that didn’t lend itself to quitting or losing.

“I always lost, though,” admitted Nendah, Anthony’s younger brother. “Not gonna lie.”

All these years later, that brotherly competition still goes strong. Now centerpieces for Coppin State’s basketball program, Anthony and Nendah still make time before every practice for a one-on-one showdown, harkening back to when their basketball skills first took form.

And as Anthony and Nendah drive each other to improve each day, they also prod the Eagles forward, helping lead the Baltimore college to its first regular-season MEAC championship since the 2003-04 season.

Getting to this point wasn’t a guarantee, though. As Nendah described it, the stars had to align just right for he and his brother to compete together for the first time since high school. But the product — a regular-season title, a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and individual awards for both players — has been beyond anything they could’ve imagined.

“Anthony and Nendah have been nothing short of amazing in their first year together at Coppin State,” coach Juan Dixon said. “They’re both elite defenders. They’re both very unselfish on the offensive end. They make the right plays. They both have a ton of confidence in their shooting ability. And it’s just simply going out there and being the Tarkes.”

Dixon, the former Maryland star who’s in his fourth year at the helm of Coppin State, loved what he saw from Nendah when he watched tape of the 6-foot-4 guard playing at Covenant College Prep in New Jersey.

To Dixon’s surprise, Nendah didn’t have any other scholarships at the time. He soon convinced Nendah of what he could achieve with the Eagles, and then Nendah’s work on Anthony began. Anthony planned to transfer from UTEP for his final year of eligibility, and his younger brother reminded him of what they once deemed a far-fetched dream: playing together in college.

“He was convincing, man, throughout the whole decision process, he was like, ‘Dude, come on,’” Anthony said. “And at first, I had my reservations with the whole situation, moving down a conference or whatever. But then, I just felt so comfortable being with him, and I felt like we could do something special.”

But it didn’t start off as planned. Coppin State lost eight of its first nine games and Nendah missed two through injury. Anthony said losing a five-point game to Towson on Dec. 26 might’ve been the team’s nadir; he said he was in a “tough place mentally,” frustrated by losses stacking up.

Once the MEAC slate began, though, the Eagles found their stride.

“It just seemed like everything just started clicking,” Nendah said. “Something clicked in conference where everyone just started to play their best basketball.”

That’s when Nendah returned from injury, and he and his brother combined to score 25 points in the conference-opening win against Delaware State. Down the stretch, Coppin State posted an 8-4 record in the MEAC, securing a share of the title.

Guard DeJuan Clayton — who averaged 15.3 points — and the Tarkes helped lead that charge. Nendah finished the season averaging 9.6 points per game and 4.7 rebounds. His brother, Anthony, made a statement in his graduate senior season: 16.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.7 steals per game.

Even as those tallies helped Coppin State battle near the top of the conference, the sibling rivalry between Anthony and Nendah pushed each other more. Their mom got in on it, too.

Nendah had a 15-point game, you only had 13 points,” Anthony recalled his mom joking. “She’ll throw little nuggets out there. And again, it’s just healthy competition.”

The progression through the season for Nendah was especially apparent, finishing with double-digit point tallies in seven of his last nine games — securing him MEAC Rookie of the Year honors as well as a third-team All-MEAC place.

“If you would’ve told me I’d win that at the beginning of the season,” Nendah said, “I probably would’ve called you a liar.”

Anthony outdid his younger brother, though, taking home both the conference’s Player of the Year award and Defensive Player of the Year honor. The MEAC thinks it’s the first time brothers have swept the postseason awards in any Division I conference.

But Coppin State isn’t done, and the Tarkes aren’t resting on those laurels. The Eagles play the winner of the Morgan State and Florida A&M game on Friday in the semifinal of the MEAC tournament.

“Our mentality through this whole process has been to get to the NCAA tournament,” Anthony said. “From the time in May when I committed with my brother, we knew that was the plan, that was the goal. So, we’re glad we’re North Division champions, we’re glad we have the No. 1 seed. But we’re not done, and I think we’re starting to play our best basketball at the best time.”

Reaching this point, however, was years in the making, first envisioned while two kids played one-on-one for hours at their house — dreaming that one day this would all be possible.

“Sometimes you really gotta take a step back and appreciate where you are,” Nendah said. “I think it’s surreal, and I think it’s something I’m never going to forget.”

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