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Moquete set to continue career professionally in Dominican Republic

As a child, Rayner Moquete told his father he wanted to play college basketball in the United States. The Dominican Republic native fulfilled that dream, and now he’s pursuing the next one.

Soles de Santo Domingo Este selected Moquete with the fifth overall pick in Liga Nacional de Baloncesto’s (LNB) draft on April 15. Moquete, a senior on Binghamton’s men’s basketball team, plans to sign his contract within the next week. He will join the Soles after classes end on May 9, a day after the eight-team Dominican Republic league begins play.

“I’m pretty excited,” said the 6-foot-1 guard from Santo Domingo, who averaged 4.5 points per game last season. “Hearing from my old teammates, my family members and friends … they reached out to me, congratulating me and wishing me the best of luck, making me feel really good that I’m going to be able to play in front of them, the people that saw me growing up.”

Moquete’s parents — Carmelo Moquete and Lisette Escanio — instilled a passion for basketball in their son, who, like most other Dominican boys, also played baseball. Lisette played professional basketball in the Dominican Republic until she got pregnant with Rayner, while Carmelo was reputed as one of the best players in his region as a youth.

Moquete, who said playing any baseball position but shortstop and pitcher bored him, recalled an influential conversation he had as an 8-year-old with his father as they watched an NCAA Division I basketball game.

“I said, ‘I want to play there,’” the younger Moquete said. “My dad started laughing. He was like, ‘You want to play there, you know what you have to do?’ I was like, ‘No, tell me.’ He said, ‘Well, you have to get your grades up. You have to study. You have to learn English, and you have to get recruited.’”

With luck and skills playing equal roles, a 15-year-old Moquete caught the attention of a Florida International University assistant coach. Moquete had gone to pick up his younger brother from the gym, where he ran into several of his friends. They were there for a tryout in front of the FIU assistant, and convinced him to lace up.

The coach, impressed by Moquete’s skills set, asked if the Santo Domingo native would like to play high school basketball in the U.S. with the goal of earning a Division I scholarship.

“I was like, ‘What? Yes,’” Moquete recalled. “That’s what I wanted.”

Just three weeks before his 17th birthday, Moquete and compatriot Gerardo Suero landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport. They had come to New York to attend Our Savior New American School, a Lutheran institution on Long Island with a solid basketball program.

Moquete’s path from Our Savior New American to Binghamton University wasn’t without its roadblocks. After playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore at Fordham, Moquete spent a year away from competitive basketball before joining Tommy Dempsey’s first team at Binghamton.

During that in-between year, Suero led Albany to 19 wins before declaring for the 2012 NBA Draft. Suero wasn’t selected and returned to the Dominican Republic, where he won LNB Rookie of the Year in 2012.

Moquete said he and Suero, who have known each other for 13 years, speak frequently. Suero has shared his experiences in LNB with Moquete, who passionately relayed facts about the league’s growth in recent years.

Some of the money generated by baseball on the island has filtered its way into LNB. That, according to Moquete, has enabled teams to approach the expense levels of more prestigious leagues in Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Though Moquete has not officially agreed to a deal, he expects to earn between $4,000 and $6,000 per month, typical pay for a LNB rookie with a college basketball pedigree. The competition isn’t quite the level seen in European leagues, but last year LNB featured solid former college players like Suero, Arizona’s Jamelle Horne and Iona’s Michael Glover and Ricky Soliver.

Moquete hopes to use the summer — LNB’s schedule starts in May and ends in August — as an audition for leagues in other countries, many of which begin in September. The goal is to play basketball professionally for as long as possible. Moquete will be at least the 18th Bearcat from the Division I era to sign a professional basketball contract, according to BU’s sports information department.

The long-term goal, though, is to earn a master’s degree in urban planning.

“I’m just trying to have the most of the possibilities open,” said Moquete, whose father is a civil engineer in the Dominican Republic. “I definitely want to do my master’s right away, but if I get the opportunity to play somewhere else I am definitely going to take the opportunity because I guess I won’t get another chance.”

But Moquete isn’t wishing away these next couple of months. After seven years living in the U.S., he’ll relish his most prolonged return home since he boarded the plane with Suero.

He’s excited to immerse himself in Dominican culture — the merengue, the beach days, the food. One dish in particular, featuring a black mushroom called “yon yon,” makes Moquete’s eyes light up.

“People cook [yon yon] with rice to give the rice color. The rice after you cook it is black,” Moquete said. “You take the little mushrooms out, and you cook it with a fish called bacalao [cod]. They chop the fish in small slices and they cook it with sweet potatoes and avocados. That’s my favorite dish. I can’t get that here.”