HBCU sports has gotten the short end of the coverage stick for decades, roughly ever since major Southern and Midwestern colleges began not just integrating their squads, but pursuing prime Black athletic talent with a vengeance. Watching the Final Fours of both men’s and women’s teams this past weekend you saw schools like Duke and Stanford with playing rosters stocked with Black players despite both being schools with minimal Black student bodies.
HBCU football has managed to retain a modicum of interest, and the recent addition of high profile coaches Deion Sanders at Jackson State, Eddie George at Tennessee State University and now Hue Jackson at Grambling has helped tilt the scales towards more exposure and publicity for those schools and by extension their opponents in such conferences as the SWAC and MEAC. But the same hasn’t usually been the case in basketball, despite the fact there are also former HBCU stars on NBA rosters.
But for at least one weekend things changed for HBCU institutions. That’s due to the first annual HBCU All-Star game, which was played in New Orleans, site of the men’s Final Four, and featured two teams representing the nation’s best from the MEAC, SWAC and two other HBCU conferences, the SIAC and CIAA. The squads were dubbed Team McLendon, after the legendary former TSU and later pro coach, and Team Gaines, after the equally legendary Clarence “Big House” Gaines. Team McLendon outlasted Team Gaines 79-75 in a game that came down to the wire. Team McLendon’s Najee Garvin of Hampton University drew a charge in transition after a collision with Javonte Cooke of Winston Salem State with 40 seconds left. It was a questionable call, but it kept Team Gaines from going to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game. Team McLendon then used success at the free-throw line in the game’s final minute to squeak out a victory.
Norfolk State’s Robert Jones coached Team McLendon, while Alcorn State’s Landon Bussie coached Team Gaines.
The game aired on CBS (locally WTVF-5) and they assembled a fine crew to present it. The broadcast was flavored with HBCU alums Brian Custer (Hampton), Avery Johnson (Southern), and (AJ Ross Howard) plus former Ohio State and NBA star Clark Kellogg.
It was also a chance for some great players who seldom get national television exposure to showcase their skills.
Benedict College’s forward Tajh Green won the MVP award. He made all three of his three-point attempts, scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Another standout was Texas Southern’s Brison Gresham. He was especially active defensively with two blocked shots in the final seconds of the first half. Some others who had strong games included Prince Moss (Grambling), Kyle Foster (Howard), Jawaun Daniels (Prairie View A&M), Kassim Nicholson (Tennessee State), Najee Garvin (Hampton), and Jalen Seegars (Fayetteville State).
But neither individual performances or the final score were the most important thing. Instead, it was the opportunity at last for many top HBCU players to get the kind of national exposure and coverage routinely given to Black athletes at predominantly white institutions.