Recruiting is the lifeblood of major college football and basketball, and in the post-integration era the top Black high school prospects for the most part have opted for Power 5 conference schools. Those are the places deemed the best spots to get national television exposure, be viewed by pro scouts, and enhance prospects to get drafted in either the NFL or the NBA. While every year there are players from small schools and/or HBCUs who beat the odds and make pro rosters, even some who succeed despite not being drafted, it’s still largely viewed as essential for any top 10 prospect to attend a Power 5 conference school, or at minimum a college or university that’s predominantly white (also known as PWI).
However last week there was a recruiting visit that on the surface may not seem like much, but potentially could change the course of NCAA recruiting if others follow suit. Makur Maker isn’t a name that well known outside basketball recruiting circles, but within them he’s a hot item. That’s because Maker, a nearly seven-foot center (six-eleven to be exact) is the rarest of items, a true “point center.” That’s someone who can pass and shoot like a forward or guard, but defend and rebound like a center. Makur is in his last year of high school in California, and his exploits have been covered almost as much in the sporting press as those of Lebron James when he was in his final high school year.
But the big thing about Maker is he’s indicated he’s seriously considering signing with an HBCU. He made an official visit last week to Howard during its homecoming. That made it two weekends in a row for Howard entertaining top prospects as they’d previously been visited by six-feet, four-inch guard Josh Christopher. Maker is ranked number 10 on the list of top high school players and Christopher, also from California, is listed 12th.
Should Howard land one or both, suddenly the traditionally Black conference the MEAC would have two of the nation’s top 20 players appearing in its various schools’ arenas. It would be an immediate jump start for a school best known for having championship caliber soccer programs, but not much in the basketball world. Maker was quoted saying “ I think we’re starting a different culture with top recruits coming in to visit here (Howard) and taking this seriously,” he told ESPN’s website The Undefeated October 12. “A lot of HBCUs are being overlooked.” Howard’s basketball coach Kenny Blakeney is prohibited by NCAA regulations from opening discussing any prospect’s visits, but added he was happy that both were considering both his school and HBCUs period. “This brings awareness and reminds people of the value of HBCUs,” Blakeney added. “Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s HBCUs were the only places where African Americans could attend school and participate in extracurricular activities.”
You’ve got to be certain age to remember a time when much of major college football and basketball (pretty much ALL of it in the South) was totally segregated. Today there are SEC schools with larger percentages of Black football and basketball players on the squad than the schools in general, and Black basketball coaches are no longer rarities in the SEC. It’s still not that commonplace to see Black football coaches or athletic directors, but even that’s gradually changing.’
Now no one should look for some huge exodus of top Black athletes suddenly deciding that they’re going to attend Grambling instead of Alabama or Clemson in football, or Coppin State instead of Kentucky or Duke in basketball. Those schools still have more to offer from the standpoint of facilities and exposure, and the simple reality is that the HBCU experience doesn’t resonate as much with the current generation of Black athletes as it once did.
Writer Jemele Hill rattled a few cages a couple of months ago with an article in the Atlantic urging Black athletes to start considering HBCUs as alternatives, saying that they could help raise awareness and exposure, to say nothing of resources and profits for HBCUs. There was lot of hue and cry that she was advocating “reverse segregation,” but in truth she was simply expressing an honest hope that not every top Black football or basketball player ignore HBCUs when considering choices for college.
Just as it would be great if more Black sports fans would support their local HBCUs (and not just for athletic events), it would be equally great if Makur and Christoper start a trend where more top Black high school prospects at least seriously consider attending an HBCU and being stars for them, as opposed to just plugging into the hugely successful Power 5 conference programs already in place. They can help rebuild a legacy rather than simply extending another.