NYC native Trevon Hughes has come to love life in Badger country
Hughes went to a Wisconsin military prep school with a history of NYC makeovers
Reluctant at first, he eventually embraced Wisconsin as 'a home away from home'
Hughes hasn't lost his NYC flair at Wisconsin, he's just learned how to control it
MADISON, Wis. -- A few miles south of the University of Wisconsin campus, inside a place called Barberstown, the poster of hairstyle photos predates the fro-hawk craze, and Trevon Hughes is using a laptop to find an example of his desired cut online. The Badgers' senior point guard's inspiration is, of all things, the Verizon Wireless commercial where a man's mythical "coverage map" pops up and obscures a football game on TV. "You've seen that?" Hughes asks his barber, LaMar Skinner, on a snowy Tuesday morning. "I want a mohawk with dark sides, like the guy with the bad AT&T map."
It doesn't take them long to queue up the ad; Verizon was nice enough to post video of the entire campaign online, although the company probably didn't anticipate this scenario. "You're just talking about a tapered mohawk," Skinner says, nodding, and he beckons Hughes over to a nearby chair.
Within an hour, Hughes' finished cut has a renegade, fro-hawk look from the back, befitting a guard who grew up in Queens, N.Y., idolizing Stephon Marbury. From the front, though, Hughes could almost pass it off as a traditional fade; it looks more serious, befitting a backcourt rock in Bo Ryan's swing offense, which Wisconsin has run so efficiently this season that it's off to a 13-3 start (and No. 13 ranking) after getting picked to finish eighth in the Big Ten. Hughes, who's averaging 15.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists, hasn't lost all his New York flair since his unlikely migration to the Midwest -- he's just learned how to keep it under control, and has emerged as one of the conference's best floor generals.
The first haircut Hughes received in the state of Wisconsin, eight and a half years earlier, was traumatic. In the summer before eighth grade, he begrudgingly shipped out from the Rosedale neighborhood of Queens, a five-minute drive east of John F. Kennedy International Airport, to St. John's Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., on an athletic scholarship. He showed up with his hair in braids, and the barber at St. John's gave Hughes a cruel makeover. "I think their barber was blind in one eye, and he didn't even use scissors first," Hughes said. He just shaved it and left patches everywhere. Butchered it. That might have been the worst day of my life."
It was the start of a turbulent transition to the rigidity of military school -- rise at 6 a.m., lights-out at 10 p.m., with daily room and uniform inspections, drill-work, classes, a two-hour study hall, and either football or basketball practice in between -- in a place Hughes admits he once couldn't even pick out on a map. It hadn't helped that his friends in Queens ridiculed him before he left. "They said stuff like, 'You're going out into the woods,'" Hughes recalls. "They were calling it 'Wisbumblef---'."
So how did Hughes find his way to a tiny (approximately 325 students), all-male academy more than 900 miles away in Wisbum-- er, Wisconsin? The connection between the five boroughs and St. John's began in 1973, when Gary Richert, the school's new football (and soon-to-be basketball) coach was introduced to Joe Bostic Jr., a New Yorker who was friends with Marquette coach Al McGuire. Bostic's father, Joe Sr., who died in 1988, was a trailblazing figure who became the first African-American ringside announcer at Madison Square Garden, and was also the sports editor for the Amsterdam News.
Joe Jr., who worked with prominent summer-league teams such as Riverside Church and the New York Gauchos, had considerable cred in the city hoops scene. "Kids regarded him as a guru," says Richert, "and he tried to shepherd them to better [school] situations, with the hope that he could save some of them."
The younger Bostic became enamored enough with Richert and St. John's that the school turned into a destination for some of New York's best talent from 1974-80, including Eddie Lee, a point guard who went on to break Oscar Robertson's all-time assist record at Cincinnati; Dwayne Johnson, an eventual freshman starter at Marquette; and Ronnie Williams, who would become the all-time leading scorer at Florida. A Milwaukee Sentinel article on Richert's team from Nov. 16, 1979 -- a season in which Williams and Johnson led them to a top-25 national ranking -- was headlined, "St. John's gets big cage ideas from Easterners."
But in 1980, Richert left to take a job as the coach at Division II St. Leo in Florida, stalling what might have been a hegemonic run at St. John's, and he didn't come back to the school until 2001, when he was rehired as athletic director and football coach. Bostic, who continued to direct an occasional (but usually non-elite) New York athlete to St. John's during Richert's hiatus, called him upon his return with a tip. "There's an eighth-grader I just sent," Bostic said, "that you have to go see in the gym."
Richert did, and he immediately called his two sons, Brian and Tim, who were coaching at a nearby juco, Waukesha County Technical College, and said, "This kid is good enough to start on your team right now."
The kid was Trevon Hughes, and in time for his freshman season, Brian (a head coach) and Tim (his assistant) left their juco posts to take over St. John's Northwestern's basketball team. According to Hughes' mother, Twanna Hutchinson, a parent coordinator at P.S. 251 in Queens, the three Richerts became Hughes' "adoptive family in Wisconsin." He'd been a burgeoning troublemaker in Rosedale, and Hutchinson pushed him toward military school as a preventative measure, even though it meant leaving her, his step dad, a brother and five sisters behind.
"I needed to get Trevon out of New York," Hutchinson says, "because with the company he'd been keeping, I didn't want to lose him to the streets."
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