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Makur Maker’s choice of an HBCU only becomes a movement if others follow

Top players like Mikey Williams have to join Maker at schools like Howard to create a trend

Last week, Makur Maker, a talented 19-year-old high school basketball player, announced via Twitter that he would attend Howard University, one of the nation’s preeminent universities and the citadel of historically Black colleges and universities.

Maker’s move to Howard is being heralded as a game-changer, as the long-awaited watershed moment for HBCU sports that will bring Black colleges back to yesteryear, when blue-chip Black athletes attended HBCUs.

That’s a lot to put on a freshman who has committed to a program coming off a four-win season.

It’s easy to get caught up in the rapture of protests, in this volatile moment of marches with Black Lives Matter banners hanging everywhere, even on corporate doorsteps.

In such a climate, Maker’s embrace of Howard seems in step with turbulent times and rising Black consciousness. But the move raises a lot more questions than answers.

But will other blue-chip recruits like Mikey Williams do more than consider HBCUs? Will they actually follow Maker and attend? Do they really have the nerve to duplicate Maker’s bold gambit: embracing a Black institution rather than further enriching a white one that runs on Black muscle?

Is this a moment or a passing fancy? Five years from now, will other elite athletes have decided to go to an HBCU? “We’re going to have to wait to see what the results are,” said Dennis E. Thomas, commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference. “Is this going to be a one-off or is it going to be a continuation? It should be an awakening.”

The idea of Black power is intoxicating. One filmmaker is producing a movie about a high school star who attends an HBCU. Author Antonio Michell has written a novel about the same subject, and NBA star Chris Paul is planning an HBCU docuseries. But how will all of this accrue to the benefit of HBCU sports? Will Black professional athletes send their sons and daughters to HBCUs?

There are African Americans who would never think of sending their children to HBCUs — most Black students attend predominantly white institutions. However, the largest concentration of Black students can be found at the nation’s 100-plus historically Black colleges and universities.

The superstar Black athletes simply don’t attend them.

You can argue that we’re asking too much by asking impressionable 18-year-olds to pass up the opportunity to play in packed stadiums and arenas, though those stadiums and arenas will be empty for the foreseeable future. They will play nationally televised games before adoring fans who make young Black athletes feel like the toast of the town.

How many of us would have the fortitude to pass that up? I think of myself at age 18. Had the white sports establishment considered me a valuable raw material, a precious jewel to be wined, dined and seduced, would my family have been able to see through the glitter and chosen Morgan State, the place where I naturally belonged?

Probably not.

But Maker is special. “His values are rock solid because he’s seeing the value in the Howard experience,” said Thomas.

“Some people look at the glitter and all the hype. I’m pleased that he and his family understood that there’s not much value in that. The value is in your experience. The value is in how people treat you. The value is in going to a place where people sincerely care about you as a person and sincerely care about you developing all aspects from a holistic standpoint. That was one of the reasons for him going to Howard.”

Maker will spend what is likely to be his only year in college at an HBCU, and why not. He’s going to leave school in six months. He should go where he’ll make a difference.

Zion Williamson could have gone to North Carolina Central University, possibly led the Eagles deep into the NCAA tournament and become an HBCU legend. Instead, Williamson attended Duke and, like hundreds of Black athletes before him, toted that barge, lifted that bale and was quickly replaced by yet another athletic Black body.

I have had this conversation with Chris Webber, the former University of Michigan and NBA star and TV commentator. Webber was the pillar of the Fab Five, five extraordinary freshman basketball recruits who chose to attend Michigan. They led Michigan to back-to-back Final Four appearances.

From left to right: Michigan’s Fab Five, Jimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson pose in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1991.

AP Photo/File

Webber couldn’t understand that what the Fab Five accomplished was a rebellion, not a revolution.

The revolution would have been Webber taking the nation’s top five freshmen to an HBCU and making that school the first in NCAA history to reach the Final Four.

Webber would likely have had a statue on campus.

Instead, because of a recruiting scandal, Webber’s name has been erased from the Michigan record books, his jersey removed from the rafters, his name erased as though he never existed, as though he was invisible.

Maker, on the other hand, has made Howard — and by extension, the HBCU universe — viable and visible to athletes and others who haven’t given the schools their just due.

This is great news and a potential wake-up call for young Black athletes who blindly heed the cattle call of predominantly white institutions that covet Black bodies largely for their muscle.

Consider this: Last season, Black coaches held 17.3% of the 75 college basketball head jobs at the Power 6 programs in the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and Pac-12 conferences. The Big Ten had one Black head coach. HBCUs have provided opportunities for Black coaches who could not get the opportunity at white schools.

Does Maker choosing Howard break the cycle? Probably not. I’m not sure that Maker’s move will open the floodgates for blue-chip Black athletes — and their parents — to choose Black colleges.

Now the burden is on Howard. The Bison have to win some games. As much as anything, winning will determine if this one move by Maker is the game-changer everyone is predicting.

Howard’s men’s program finished 4-29 last season and has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1992. In the business of sports, winning matters.

Fall sports have been canceled by several universities, the Ivy League and two HBCU conferences, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. So, will there even be a college basketball season? If not, will Maker ever play for Howard? Even if he never plays, Howard’s reputation as “The Mecca” will grow and likely prompt other top athletes in all sports to consider the university.

Does Maker choosing Howard break the cycle? Probably not. I’m not sure that Maker’s move will open the floodgates for blue-chip Black athletes — and their parents — to choose Black colleges. “But he has cracked the door for others to follow,” Thomas said.

Eventually, the protests will subside, the marching will stop and Black lives will matter primarily to Black people.

Maker’s decision to attend Howard could be a watershed moment, though that depends on whether elite Black players and their parents still believe that the white man’s ice is colder and that the road to fame and fortune runs through white institutions.

They will determine whether Maker created a moment or a movement.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” is a writer-at-large for The Undefeated. Contact him at william.rhoden@espn.com.