Here’s Why HBCUs Are Making A Comeback As Serious Options For Elite Basketball Prospects

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Many elite Black high school basketball players are including HBCUs as serious options on their interest lists in an effort to help their communities. In this photo, Air Force’s Kamryn Williams (4) moves the ball away from Boise State’s Mikey Thompson (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Boise, Idaho, on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Boise State won 69-58. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

Whenever there is a major shift in culture, it is typically led by young people. Such is the case right now with many elite high school basketball players who are including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as serious options on their interest lists – and this time, their plays are matching what they say.

As America experiences a surge of unprecedented Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, highly sought after Black recruits are not only saying attending an HBCU is a likely option, they’re making visits and in talks with them.

The current trend was ignited by top high school basketball prospect Mikey Williams when he tweeted “Going to an HBCU wouldn’t be too bad …” on June 2, according to ESPN.

Though Williams has since created a new Twitter, the tweet caught widespread attention – and other top players took note also. NBA star Carmelo Anthony even weighed in on the matter of Instagram Live.

“All it takes is one person to change history,” Anthony said. “I think it’s a better chance of this new generation, this next generation, to go to a HBCU and be accepted and bring something different to a HBCU, as opposed to what was happening in 2002. Do I think that a kid like Mikey Williams should consider a HBCU? I think he should, based off of the power that he has within himself. If he [does] that, it changes college sports because you have a young black kid at the top of his game who decided to go to a black university. That’s totally different.”

Based on his new Twitter with the username @619Presidential, he’s giving the option major thought. If he does commit to an HBCU, he’ll be following in the footsteps of Kenyan-born Makur Maker, a five-star recruit who committed to Howard University. Maker’s decision makes him the highest-ranked player to commit to an HBCU in decades.

Other elite prospects like Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and El Ellis have also included HBCUs on their short list of schools. Huntley-Hatfield said it is an opportunity for elite Black athletes to literally change the face of the recruiting game as we know it.

“I think it would change the culture forever,” Huntley-Hatfield told ESPN, sharing Williams’ post inspired him to begin researching HBCUs. “It would change the game of basketball altogether, if one of us chose a different pathway to make our dream come true and help our community. It just opens up a whole new bridge of opportunity. I feel like it would be a domino effect.”

North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Moton said the world is witnessing history with Black athletes’ shift in thinking about attending HBCUs.

“When we look back 40 years from now, we’ll realize this was a historical and monumental time,” Moton told ESPN. “This will be in the history books — this is the day the world changed. The movement feels different. … They’re tired of the status quo and the ‘in vogue’ and what’s happening. They want to reclaim their power. We need to care about us. It shouldn’t be a crime that I want to go support my own.

The love HBCUs are receiving by elite athletes is not only limited to basketball players. On July 6, talented defensive back Tayvion Land announced he was committing to Norfolk State University after leaving Liberty University due to “racial insensitivity.”

“Thanks to all the colleges and coaches that were interested in accepting me into their school,” Land said in a statement. “My choice is to be surrounded by people with similar backgrounds and cultural experiences. And to be within a unique community with support and understanding among faculty and my fellow classmates… Thank you NSU for welcoming me… officially a Norfolk State Spartan #hbcu.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 73: Jamarlin Martin

Jamarlin makes the case for why this is a multi-factor rebellion vs. just protests about George Floyd. He discusses the Democratic Party’s sneaky relationship with the police in cities and states under Dem control, and why Joe Biden is a cop and the Steve Jobs of mass incarceration.

It’s their way of standing in the paint for their culture by using their elite standings to help their communities.

“Because of what’s going on in the world right now, attention goes directly to the African American community and how we can make it better,” Tennessee State coach Brian “Penny” Collins told ESPN. “Playing for those universities, they make those universities better. There’s a sentiment to do whatever they can to help their community. This is just one of the things on the list.”

It’s no secret HBCUs don’t not have as many resources as their Power 5 counterparts. But this next generation of athletes feel the trade off may be worth. What they lack in tangibles like multiple gyms and the ability to catch flights instead of buses, they make up for with culture, connectivity, community and a true commitment to athletes’ success on and off the court or field.

“A lot of people are comfortable with familiarity. Kids could say, ‘I would feel welcome that I’m not just an athlete — I’m part of a community,'” Maker’s guardian Ed Smith told ESPN. “On the visit at Howard, that was the main difference. Just for me on the outside looking in, he’s part of the fabric. You’re not just the athlete or the Black athlete.”

Moton reiterated the impact Maker, Williams, Huntley-Hartfield and other elite Black athletes could have on the culture by attending HBCUs. It’s a hypothesis that answers a question former ESPN host Jemele Hill asked last year.

“It would be groundbreaking, to say the least,” Moton said. “It’s the Jackie Robinson effect, the snowball effect, where everybody will follow. They are the product, they are who we watch TV to see, not LeVelle Moton or any other coach. We turn on the TV to see the athletes run up and down the field or up and down the court. They’re realizing they have the power to generate interest. Wherever they go, the crowd follows. Once the crowd follows, TV and revenue follows.”