The pause button has been pressed on Maker, Howard, but HBCUs can still find success

To my HBCU family,

Makur Maker is out indefinitely.

The Howard guard/forward, a former five-star recruit from California, is reportedly the most highly rated recruit to ever sign at an HBCU.

The thing is – we know that’s not true. Great high school players have always played at HBCUs, going back to the 1940’s. They just weren’t called five-star recruits.

While I initially found it a little strange that Maker was going to be “shut down” indefinitely because of a groin injury, it reminded me about the caution I felt when he first committed to, then signed to play at Howard.

The HBCU world celebrated. Media outlets that generally don’t cover us came out of the woodwork to write about Maker, which is a good thing. I wrote about it as well and said, “For this to work, Maker must actually PLAY for Howard.”

While the injury is legit, it could also be a situation where Howard is being a little more cautious with Maker than it or any other school in the same situation would be with a similar player. It also reminded me that there are and have been good players at HBCUs.

This isn’t just about Maker.

What it should do is remind us–true HBCUers, who went to and graduated from our schools, who were down with the HBCU cause before it became more popular within the last few years, and more specifically within the last several months, who truly understand HBCUs–that great basketball players have always come from our schools.

Earl Lloyd, the first Black player in the NBA. Sam Jones. Cleo Hill, Sr. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. Bobby Dandridge. Bobby Phills, Lindsey Hunter, Ben Wallace. Flip Murray. And more recently Kyle O’Quinn who played at Norfolk State and Robert Covington of Tennessee State, an NBA All-Defensive Team performer. They all played and thrived while at HBCUs.

And there are some really good current players as well. While Maker was a great signing and will hopefully lead to other high ranking recruits playing at our schools, this should be a reminder that our programs can be successful with players who aren’t necessarily five star recruits.

If you look at HBCUs historically we have survived for almost 184 years, amidst the evils of racism, severe underfunding, and anything else you can imagine that could have taken our programs down.

Still, for various systemic reasons HBCU alumni have had limited opportunities to play and coach professional sports at the highest levels.

Six NBA head coaches–North Carolina A&T grad Al Attles, who is the only HBCU grad to lead his team to an NBA title; Lloyd, who coached the Pistons in the 1971-72 season; Draff Young of Johnson C. Smith served four games as head coach for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1973; Grambling’s Bob Hopkins, who coached the Supersonics for 22 games during the 1977-78 season before being fired; Willis Reed of Grambling who had stints with the Knicks and the Nets; Avery Johnson, a Southern grad who was on the cusp of leading the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA championship; and former Jackson State star Lindsey Hunter, who was head coach of the Phoenix Suns on an interim basis in 2013–are the only six HBCU alums to become head coaches in the NBA. Also Rick Mahorn, a Hampton alum, was interim head coach of the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA for a season.

(Of note, in the National Football League there were only two, Art Shell and Alcorn State grad Leslie Frazier. Both got raw deals with their respective teams. Both deserved a second chance and while Shell received that chance, it was 10 years too late. In Major League Baseball there was Cecil Cooper of Prairie View A&M, Hal McRae of Florida A&M, and Larry Doby of Virginia Union for half a season in 1978.)

Seven HBCU alums in the NBA as head coaches, 12 across all American professional sports leagues. Shameful.

See, we are going to have to do this on our own.

We must build great, sustained programs from the ground up.

And we don’t have to count on four and five-star players to make it happen.

Other schools can do it like North Carolina Central grad and head coach LeVelle Moton, who has led his program to three-straight MEAC Tournament championships and four overall, after taking over the NCCU program two years into its move from Division II to Division I. Coaches and schools can build programs like Ben Jobe, a Fisk grad who won five conference championships, and in one of his most memorable moments, led Southern to a first round win over ACC champion Georgia Tech in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. By the way Jobe, who coached both Phills and Johnson, should be in the National College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

This should have been a situation where Maker came in, the spotlight shined on Howard and HBCUs, Burr Gymnasium was filled to capacity every night, and Howard benefited financially from marketing and exposure.

Other players would have taken note, come to our schools and, again, we would have benefited financially.

COVID-19 derailed that. And Maker’s injury has derailed the interest level, at least, even further.

The exposure that a player like Maker brings to Howard, to HBCUs, and the interest level that other highly-ranked recruits potentially playing at our schools could bring is a good thing. But situations like what is happening at Howard will give pause to potential recruits. I’m not knocking the signing of Maker, but it’s fleeting and if other HBCUs don’t capitalize financially on the opportunities at hand, then it’s a waste of time. We don’t need further exposure. We need real dollars.

We have done it before, and we can get this done again on our own.

Donal Ware is the host of the nationally syndicated sports talk radio program FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW, airing in over 25 markets across the country and on SiriusXM. He is a Morgan State University graduate and has been covering HBCU sports for more than 20 years.

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