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The tattoo on his left leg is a picture of a fallen friend.
Tyson Etienne: “He lost his life to gun violence in 2015. It shook the basketball world; it shook me. That was one of my closest friends. It kinda happened at a time where I didn’t really know if I was gonna continue to even play basketball, but from that experience, that changed my perspective on life. I kinda just said I’m gonna start working hard for him, and then through that, I discovered my love for the game of basketball again.”
Armoni Sexton was shot in the head, the victim of a drive-by shooting on April 18, 2015. Sexton’s brother called Etienne with the tragic news that he was fighting for his life in the hospital.
“The last thing he ever said to me was that he missed me,” Etienne said. “We just saw each other at an event that the team was having. That’s the last memory that I’ve got of him.”
Tyson Etienne continues: “Going through life you take a lot of things for granted. We think that we have all this time, endless amount of time, so we put things off. Tomorrow’s not promised. I began to develop myself as a man, as a young man, then develop myself in the game of basketball. I was doing it to honor him.
“My Instagram profile is a picture of him. It came from his yearbook picture.”
Etienne wears No. 1 because Armoni Sexton, who appeared destined for basketball greatness, wore No. 1 when they were teammates on the New Jersey Playaz.
“I said that one day the whole world’s gonna know who he was,” Etienne said, “so whatever I do in the game of basketball, he also does.”
Tyson Etienne has until Wednesday to decide whether he will carry the memory of his lost friend into the NBA, or back to Wichita State.
“It’s definitely a big decision,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’ve been meditating on, praying about, just leading myself to the right answer.”
Etienne tells The Post the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness rules will not affect his decision. He has had workouts with the Knicks and Nets and several others. Etienne is an emerging 6-foot-2 shooting guard with maturity beyond his 21 years and high character who could be a steal as a second-round projection.
Etienne would gladly realize his NBA dream with any franchise, but forgive his current Knicks bias — he is a lifelong Knicks fan, playing on his Little Tikes hoop his father, Max, set up for him in the living room while the Knicks were playing on the family TV, and Marcus Camby is his godfather. DeAndre Jordan is a cousin.
“I used to go to games, I used to be in Madison Square Garden getting my diaper changed,” Etienne said.
He grew up in Englewood, N.J., and spent a life-altering junior year at Long Island Lutheran High School.
“Waking up at 4 o’clock going to school, getting on two trains, it really tested me to see how bad I wanted it to go to a high-level Division I school,” he said.
It was often a 2 ¹/₂-hour trip. It would steel him for the adversity that hit Wichita State when coach Gregg Marshall resigned in November amid multiple allegations of verbal and physical abuse against former players, which he denied.
“I committed to Wichita State to play for Coach Marshall,” Etienne said. “I knew that you control what you can control. I don’t really take things personal, but I feel like they wrote us off because of Coach Marshall leaving and I feel like they counted out Coach Isaac Brown and the rest of our coaches and all the players that we had. I just definitely wanted to do whatever I could to show the world that Wichita State was strong and they can withstand any storm and make it through.”
“My workout with the Knicks went well,” Etienne said. “I was really interested to see all the changes that they made to their organization, the different core values that they had in place. I definitely see New York moving in a really positive direction as you can see from the past season.”
Etienne — the 2021 American Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year as a sophomore — led the Shockers to the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Drake.
Asked what he would tell an NBA general manager about why he should draft him, Etienne says: “I believe you should draft Tyson Etienne because he’s gonna do whatever is needed. For one, help the organization be the best that it can be, but also be the best that he can be for himself. He’s never gonna shy away, never gonna be afraid to accept any challenge or to accept any type of responsibility or role on the team, and he’s just gonna have an undying commitment to be being the greatest he can be.”
His experience playing at Dyckman Park and Rucker and West 4th was invaluable. Etienne played alongside Cole Anthony with the PSA Cardinals.
“New York is the mecca of basketball,” Etienne said. “You have to be tough. If you’re not tough you’re gonna be exposed. People are gonna come after you and that’s not a good feeling.”
His favorite players growing up were Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Jamal Crawford, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and, of course, Camby.
“By no means am I saying that I am him, but Damian Lillard is somebody that I look up to and I see similarities, just being continuously overlooked, having to prove himself time and time again,” Etienne said.
Camby, the second-overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, has offered his advice.
“He obviously was in a different situation in his draft, he told me be who I am,” Etienne said. “Have no fear and just know that you belong in this because you worked for this.”
His mother, Anita Gibson, is an Emmy-nominated makeup artist.
“A lot of my discipline comes from seeing my mom work the way she worked every single day,” Etienne said.
A man of faith, Etienne will make his announcement Wednesday.
“I’ll let God speak to me,” Etienne said.
Meditation has taught him to stay in the moment. A huge moment awaits him.
“My purpose on this Earth is to inspire and to lead,” Etienne said. “You don’t have to be necessarily the most talented or the biggest or the most athletic person to make yours dreams possible, and whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be basketball, you can be trained to be a doctor or a lawyer, just staying with the process.”
His is a basketball dream. And wherever it leads him, he’ll be bringing Armoni Sexton along for the ride.
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