As the 4th of July marked a celebratory day of respite from the monotony we've grown accustomed to during the Covid-19 pandemic, the world of men's College Basketball was watching the fallout from the fireworks that Makur Maker set off on the eve of the national holiday.
On July 3, Maker, the nation's 18th ranked recruiting prospect (Rivals.com) verbally committed to the HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) Howard University in Washington, D.C.—instead of a traditional basketball powerhouse such as UCLA or Kentucky. Maker will be the highest ranked basketball recruit, and only five star recruit, to sign on with an HBCU since the recruiting database was created by ESPN in 2007.
While Maker isn't the only top recruit in recent time to discuss playing for an HBCU, he is the only one that has actually gone as far as to commit to one. Trace Young was a three star recruit coming out of high school and played for Wyoming University his freshman year. Young decided to transfer to an HBCU, and in May announced he would be transferring to Alabama State University, one of six HBCU's he narrowed his choices down to.
Traditionally, since the inception of the one and done rule in 2006, we have seen top high school recruits attend power conference programs led by high profile coaches that are more synonymous with their schools' identity than any of its players. Since players are required to be 19 years old and a year removed from their high school graduation date in order to be draft eligible for the NBA, American high school prospects have typically taken the route of playing for the colleges that offered high visibility and exposure to improve their draft stock.
This process has kept schools like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan State flush with the nation's top talent for decades as they have the bravado of being home to coaching icons with NBA connections the likes of Mike Kryzyewski, Roy Williams, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, and the notorious John Calipari. Calipari was one of the pioneers in one and done recruiting as he learned to leverage it as a recruiting tactic by selling Kentucky as a one year boot camp to prepare top prospects for the NBA. While Calipari didn't earn a lot of friends or supporters from this approach, it would be one that every major program would have to learn to adopt in order to continue landing top recruits.
Maker's choice to commit to an HBCU shows yet another path for top basketball recruits to take now to circumvent the still standing one and done rule. By expanding the developmental G-League to allow for high school seniors to choose to play and get paid upon graduating, shows an understanding that some of these athletes are ready to compete at the NBA level and that playing for a college for one season isn't in their best interest. Other players have gone overseas to play professionally where they can earn more than what they would make in the G-League and also get to play against an increasingly talented number of leagues across the world before getting to the NBA.
As long as the one and done rule stays in place, or some iteration of it, the best basketball recruits will still play somewhere and I still believe that will largely be at the collegiate level for many of the same programs we've grown accustomed to seeing in March. But if Maker becomes the first in a new line of top recruits wanting to represent HBCUs, it could open up a new wave of power programs in the college sports landscape.
One of the great things about the coverage that college sports brings to colleges and universities is learning about their history and some of the great things that the school and its alumni have accomplished. There are great stories to be told from all of these institutions and it would be even better if more schools were able to be highlighted. Unfortunately, sports provide the biggest platform for that level of exposure and HBCUs have not been able to recruit top players because their programs have been able to compete and the exposure would be too small.
But if Maker's decision can affect someone like Mikey Williams who is the top recruit in the 2023 high school class to attend an HBCU, then we can start to talk about the logistics of increasing Burr Gymnasium's seating capacity by 15,000 seats overnight.
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It would be great to get more representation from historically black colleges and universities in this country. As we talk more about social injustices and the need to fix certain things societally, college campuses across the country have always been a breeding ground for progressive thought and enacting change. In a time where racial injustice has been trending worldwide it seems as though student athletes have begun to understand that they hold more power than what they've been led to believe all these years, and that they can enact the changes they want to see with their actions.
The NBA has been one of the more progressive leagues in American sports in terms of looking outside of the U.S. borders for its talent. By embracing the global market the NBA has gained fans and viewers overseas, and has resulted in talent from all over the world being represented on NBA rosters today. The aforementioned expansion of the NBA run G-League shows that they're open to players taking alternative routes to get to the NBA level. HBCUs represent the same path to the professional level as Kentucky or Duke but the difference for black high school athletes is what it could mean for them to represent a school that celebrates black culture and that the opportunity to be stewards of a new era that can see HBCUs continue to grow in size and influence. Let's face it, if Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish had committed to Morehouse rather than Duke, we all would've tuned in just the same to witness the spectacle.
Only time will tell if more black athletes will choose HBCUs to play out their collegiate careers before heading to the pro ranks. But as the nation continues the conversation surrounding systemic racism, this opportunity for high profile athletes to shed light on black culture serves as an interesting mechanism to add to the Black Lives Matter Movement by mobilizing and empowering new voices to be heard from the generation that will be tasked with changing the narrative of a nation.