The Makur Maker experiment at Howard was never going to work and already off to a bad start

College basketball season is just underway, and Makur Maker is already sidelined with an injury.

College basketball season is just underway, and Makur Maker is already sidelined with an injury.
Image: AP

When Makur Maker, a five-star recruit and projected NBA Draft pick, announced that he was going to play college basketball this season at Howard University — an HBCU — people said a power shift was on the horizon, especially given the racial and social uprisings that have taken place in 2020.

ESPN called the move a game-changer.

Well, a game-changer it has not been.

So far, Maker’s decision has been anticlimactic. Howard is off to an 0-3 start and lost a game to Division II Queens University of Charlotte by 14. Maker, the No. 16 ranked recruit in his class, is only averaging 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

And his season could already be over. After two games, he’s been shut down “indefinitely” with a groin injury.

“Quite honestly, he’s really banged up and we’re going to shut him down until he gets healthy because right now he’s just not,” Howard coach Kenny Blakeney told the Washington Post. “He’s not able to move, and I don’t want him to be counterproductive right now.”

One of two things is about to happen next. Maker will heal up and return to the lineup. Or, he’ll shut it down. The idea isn’t too far-fetched given that Maker turned 20 this year and was eligible to enter the 2020 NBA Draft and skip college altogether. But, after he received an undrafted evaluation, he picked Howard over Kentucky, UCLA, and Memphis.

Only Maker knows what’s next for him. But this marriage was never going to work.

Case in point: Howard only won four games last season.

That’s not a typo.

And two, Maker picked a program that hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament since 1992. It’s a reason why it isn’t scheduled to play on TV all season, as Howard’s first game was only available on ESPN 3.

If Maker truly wanted to play basketball at a high level and enjoy the HBCU experience, then Howard wasn’t the place to go. The answer was North Carolina Central University.

Since LeVelle Moton showed up at his alma mater to take over the program in 2009, the Eagles have made the Big Dance four times since 2014. They also had a great chance of making it again last season before it was canceled. You could easily make the argument that NCCU is the best HBCU basketball program in the country, but yet, Maker picked the one that lost 29 games last season.

Maker made his choice. But, it doesn’t mean that a 19-year-old, at the time, should solely carry the weight for how this has turned. He wasn’t the one that called his decision a “game-changer” and set these unrealistic expectations.

The underlying issue with Maker’s decision is that too many people with no idea how HBCUs and HBCU athletics work thought they had it figured out. Just because you watched “School Daze” or “A Different World” it doesn’t mean that you have a grasp on HBCU culture. In the same way that being Black or going to an HBCU homecoming doesn’t grant you an “HBCU experience.”

The people who knew the least were the loudest ones in the room. And the HBCU alums that were happy about Maker’s decision were doing it out of the pride we have for our alma maters.

But, what people — of all colors — didn’t take into account in the discussion about top-tier Black athletes choosing HBCUs over Power 5 schools is that it’s inherently selfish at its core.

Because if you wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, or astronaut, you would likely choose a school that has a history, system, and culture of producing doctors, lawyers, or astronauts. Going somewhere that doesn’t specialize in that wouldn’t be the best decision for your future.

So then why do people want 5-star athletes to go to schools where they specialize in the student and person you will become, instead of the athletic asset others only see you as?

There’s a reason why Maker became the highest-ranked college basketball prospect to choose an HBCU since ESPN’s recruiting database started in 2007. HBCUs and their athletic programs have not been designed to recruit, nourish, and deal with that type of top-tier athlete since segregation ended. It’s just not what they do.

If people actually wanted the “game to change” at HBCUs, then the discussion should have focused on investing resources into the schools and athletic programs so that over time they would have all the necessary tools to recruit and retain 3, 4, and 5-star athletes in the future. Maker was never going to be a quick fix to a decades-long issue.

Over college basketball’s opening week, Howard was losing games and Maker was on the sidelines while his fellow high-ranking freshmen classmates were exploding on the scene and having great performances at schools like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, and Arizona State.

An already highly-anticipated freshmen class has NBA general managers drooling on themselves.

But, the one player that GMs did not get to see on TV this past week was Maker. And while he’s nursing an injury and probably trying to decide what his future will look like, all the people who were ranting and raving about his decision to attend Howard have gone missing and have fallen silent.

But, that’s usually how it goes when it comes to HBCUs.

People always have something to say when things are going well for us, but far too often ignore us when we need their help the most.

Makur Maker, welcome to the HBCU experience.

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