[Makur Maker\Howard University]
Ware: “A player of this magnitude committing to Howard could mean that other highly regarded high school players may consider committing to HBCUs.”
Will Makur Maker commitment to play for Howard University inspired more star athletes to play for HBCU’s?
When five-star recruit Makur Maker announced his commitment to Howard University on Twitter around 4 a.m. ET on Friday, picking the Bison over UCLA, Kentucky, Memphis and others, the HBCU world was on fire and the term HBCU – Historically Black Colleges and Universities – was as hot as it’s been. Every outlet from Good Morning America to Fox News was talking about Howard University and HBCU sports.
It was the type of news and publicity ideal for HBCUs, something we have been longing for for years, since the days when “five-star athletes” regularly attended HBCUs because Black athletes were not accepted at predominantly white institutions, particularly those in the South.
This sounds like the start of a movement, right?
A player of this magnitude committing to Howard could mean that other highly regarded high school players may consider committing to HBCUs. It’s something that some of us HBCUers have written about, talked about, and discussed since non-HBCUs began accepting Black athletes en masse.
Maker’s commitment to Howard is also of special significance particularly because the program lost two big-time players in the last three years. James Daniel III, who led Division I in scoring during the 2015-16 season, transferred to Tennessee. R.J. Cole, a former three-star recruit who played for the legendary Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony’s in New Jersey and committed to Howard as a junior, left for UConn after his sophomore year amid the firing of former head coach Kevin Nickelberry who recruited him. He was named MEAC Rookie of the Year as a freshman and MEAC Player of the Year as a sophomore. The commitment by Maker to Howard could be the start of a resurgence for Bison basketball, especially after finishing just 4-29 overall and 1-15 in MEAC play this past season.
Will Maker actually ever suit up for the Bison? In February, a special provision was made for the 19-year-old by the NBA despite being two credits short of graduating with his 2019 class. In late April it was reported that Maker would enter the NBA Draft. His guardian, Ed Smith, told Mark Daniels of 247 Sports that, “We are excited about the opportunity, I think that he’s deserving. I think physically where he is, he’s ahead of Thon [Maker] (Maker’s cousin). The knowledge he’s gained from Thon and Matur and his understanding of the NBA game, the concepts, he’s way head of them.”
The thing to remember is that he’s committed to Howard but has not signed a National Letter of Intent. These are two different things. Signing an NLI binds him to Howard. There have been many instances in the past where high-profile players have committed to a school and ultimately signed with another school. Division I schools are currently allowed to sign players to NLI.
What HBCU athletics needs are the players that commit to the universities, to sign to play at the universities, and then actually play at the universities. This will generate the much-needed revenue for the universities and could help the universities to perhaps take athletics to another level.
In light of Maker’s commitment, it has been a while since I can recall that HBCU sports have been so popular. In the current times we’re living in with all of these social justice movements, players have been talking about playing at HBCUs. The first that I can remember more recently is Mikey Williams, another five-star basketball player and the third ranked recruit in the class of 2023 who understands the HBCU culture, his mother a graduate of Hampton University. Williams is just 16 and still has some time to decide. It has gotten to the point that even odds makers are getting in on the action. Bovada, an online sportsbook and casino shows odds that say Bronny James, son of LeBron James, is most likely to go to North Carolina Central, over Duke. Howard and North Carolina A&T are also on the list above Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and UCLA. James has been offered by NCCU. If Maker wants to be an influencer to Williams, as he has indicated he does and to James, having made the commitment, now he needs to sign and play at Howard for this to become a real movement.
Speaking of Williams, one thing I was surprised to read was that after he made the HBCU reference, HBCUs began to show interest. A few offered him a scholarship without having recruited him or having seen him play and others began to show interest. If that is the case, shouldn’t HBCU coaches have been recruiting him and others? While some may make the argument that players of that magnitude wouldn’t play at an HBCU, they certainly won’t if not recruited. We have a story to tell that is more powerful to a lot of those recruits than any non-HBCU has to tell.
Maker indicated on his Twitter account that he was going to do exclusive interviews with ESPN on its various platforms and programs. Yet as a player who just committed to an HBCU, he never indicated he was going to do HBCU media. Why make talking about the decision exclusive to ESPN? Doesn’t it sort of defeat the purpose to announce a commitment to Howard and talk about this being a transformational moment for HBCU athletics, but not talk directly to those truly ingrained in HBCU sports?
Maker’s commitment to Howard means nothing unless he actually plays. And if he doesn’t play, other high profile recruits are going to see this and ultimately not commit to HBCUs. Then it becomes more publicity than actual progress for HBCUs. Top players going to HBCUs will make money for the schools and generate interest for not just the school themselves but for HBCU nation as a whole. As the old saying goes, build it and they will come. There is no doubt that publicity can turn into real money. But right now, what HBCUs need is not more publicity but real money.
It just takes one and hopefully Maker is the first of many top basketball prospects to play at an HBCU.
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. Visit www.boxtorow.com for more information.