Sometime in late May, Nendah Tarke was playing video games in his parents’ home in Gaithersburg in Montgomery County, relishing the nonchalance that came after committing two weeks earlier to begin his college basketball career playing for the Coppin State men’s basketball program. The scene was briefly interrupted by older brother Anthony, who had left the University of Texas El Paso with one more year of eligibility remaining.
“He just said, ‘It’s time,’” Nendah Tarke recalled of his brother’s decision to commit to the Eagles. “I was like, ‘What does that mean?’ He said he had prayed about it and thought about it, and this was the decision he was going to make. I was just like, ‘Let’s go, let’s do it.’”
Said Anthony Tarke:“I knew that I wanted to play with him for my final year. I knew the chemistry that we would have on the floor. So that was definitely big for me.”
The arrival of the Tarke brothers has been a boon for Coppin State. In their first season in Baltimore, Anthony Tarke, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound redshirt senior shooting guard/small forward, leads the team in rebounds (7.0 per game), total steals (36) and total blocks (18) and ranks second in scoring (15.8). Nendah, a 6-4, 190-pound freshman shooting guard, ranks third in total steals (16), fourth in rebounds (4.7) and sixth in scoring (6.6).
“They’re tremendous athletes, they’re capable shooters who are getting better every day,” said Eagles coach Juan Dixon, the former University of Maryland standout who propelled the Terps to their first and only NCAA Division I championship in 2002. “They just bring something to our program that we haven’t had since I’ve been the head coach at Coppin, and that’s just crazy length and athleticism and toughness. They’re physical basketball players, and we’re just going to continue to push these guys hard and help them to have success.”
Of the two brothers (there is a third, Roniel, nicknamed “Mandela,” who is a senior point guard at Gaithersburg High School in Montgomery County), Nendah, who turns 20 on Jan. 31, is considered the more naturally talented one. As a seventh grader, he scored 24 of his recreation league team’s 42 points in an 18-point victory over an opponent.
“I think there was another middle school game when he scored something like 40 points,” Anthony Tarke, 22, said. “I was like, ‘How do you score 40?’ I couldn’t even score 10. He just had that ability to play, and he’s still super talented.”
If the elder Tarke has one advantage, it’s his height. Between eighth and ninth grade, he grew four inches to 6 feet. The following year, he grew another two inches and then another two inches to 6-4 between his sophomore and junior years. He is now 6-6, and Nendah Tarke said his brother uses his size to his advantage, especially on defense.
“I consider myself a good defender, but I think he’s a crazy good defender just because of that length and his activity,” Nendah Tarke said, adding that his brother has the versatility to mark opposing players on the perimeter or in the paint. “If I could have that kind of defense, that’s what I steal from him the most — just being able to be in position, contest shots, guard different positions.”
The Tarke brothers said they were convinced to play for the Eagles by their trust in Dixon to help them develop their skills in college and for the next level professionally. Anthony Tarke, who was recruited by Cal State Fullerton, Coastal Carolina, Hartford, Kent State, Rhode Island, and Virginia Tech, said he also was encouraged by Aaron and Andrew Robinson, who played for Coppin State last winter.
“We were telling him, ‘You have one last chance to get this right. You have one last year to put your best foot forward and try to go and get some stats so that you can play overseas or in the NBA,’” Aaron Robinson said. “We basically told him that if the goal is to put up numbers, then there’s no better place to do that than Coppin State because he’s going to have the ball in his hands and he’s going to have the freedom to show his full arsenal.”
Anthony and Nendah Tarke agree that their best performances occurred during an 86-80 victory against UNC Greensboro on Dec. 10. In that game, Anthony Tarke racked up 34 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, four blocks and four steals, becoming the first Division I player since at least the 2010-11 season to compile those numbers. Nendah Tarke collected 20 points and four rebounds.
“That game just showed a glimpse of what we can do, and I wouldn’t even say it was just about the scoring,” Nendah Tarke said. “Just having an impact on the game, I think it just showed that when we’re together, we’re all locked in, and we can definitely have a strong impact on every single game.”
For that showing, Anthony Tarke earned the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s Player and Defensive Player of the Week awards, and Nendah Tarke was named the league’s Rookie of the Week. The elder Tarke has taken home two more MEAC Defensive Player of the Week honors, and the younger Tarke was the Rookie of the Week once more.
Anthony Tarke said making an early impact was “the plan” for him and his brother.
“I don’t think I would’ve gone to school with my brother if I didn’t think he’d get a chance to really play and show what he can do,” he said. “As a freshman, I didn’t play nearly as much as he did. So I’m telling him that he should be grateful about the opportunities that he’s had and that he should continue to make the most of them because in a lot of places, it’s hard for freshmen. And I know him. He thinks he can do even more. But I’m telling him, ‘Hey, you’re doing well, and you can only get better.’”
Dixon acknowledged that if there is one area of the brothers’ games that has surprised him, it’s their field-goal efficiency with Nendah Tarke shooting a team-best 48.5% and Anthony Tarke following him closely at 44.8%.
“Nendah’s first college game was against Duke University [an 81-71 loss on Nov. 28], and we all know what that program means to college basketball, and he just went out and whapped two threes to help us get back into the game in the second half,” Dixon said. “Anthony is a much better shooter since he’s been here at Coppin State, and we’re going to continue to work on their shooting. Both of them are great passers. Didn’t know they had the ability to make plays for their teammates up until now, and I’m confident that they’re going to continue to do so.”
Anthony Tarke said he has tried counseling his brother on the peaks and valleys associated with college basketball that players frequently encounter. For instance, after a 1-8 start, the Eagles have won two straight, picking up back-to-back wins against MEAC foe Delaware State on Monday and Tuesday.
“We understand that every game and every day is not going to be great,” he said. “But there can be consistency in your effort on the defensive end, and I think we have a new team with a lot of new guys, and for me and Nendah to be able to come in here and do what we can do while learning from our coaching staff, it’s not easy, but we know that it can only continue to get better moving forward.”
Aaron Robinson, the former Eagle and now basketball analyst, said the Tarke brothers know their ability to play defense can fuel their chances on offense.
“Both of those guys are really savvy on the defensive end of the floor,” Robinson said. “Offensively, both of those guys have had multiple games in double figures. So I think those two guys have been absolutely paramount to the success of the team so far.”
That the Tarke brothers get to play together as teammates for the first time since Anthony’s senior year and Nendah’s freshman season at Gaithersburg High School is the cherry on top. Anthony Tarke called his brother “my favorite player” and said playing with him gives him “peace.”
Nendah Tarke said he understands how fortunate he is to be on the same floor with his brother.
“A lot of experiences in life aren’t going to be like this one because it’s something we’ve always wanted to do and talked about,” he said. “We thought in the back of our heads that it wasn’t going to happen, but now that it’s happening, it’s everything.”