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Makur Maker Wants Top-Tier Black Players To Go To Historically Black Colleges

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Basketball phenom Makur Maker had his choice of college basketball programs. The five-star recruit was courted heavily by schools like UCLA, Kentucky, Memphis. And he chose Howard University. Howard's record over the last few decades has not exactly been stellar. The team went 4-29 last year, but Maker says he wants to be a leader and change the culture. He wants more Black athletes to play for Black schools. The last time the upper echelon of Black student athletes flocked to historically Black colleges over predominantly white institutions was when Jim Crow was still in full swing. We're joined now by Maker's soon-to-be new head coach Kenny Blakeney.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and congrats on your new recruit.

KENNY BLAKENEY: Hi, Tonya. Thank you guys for having me. I'm a big fan of the show.

MOSLEY: Coach, after the death of George Floyd, there was this pickup in the number of Black athletes interested in HBCUs. How do you see this moment of interest from elite players like Makur Maker?

BLAKENEY: Well, I think over the last 20 years, there's been a consciousness of athletes and their social activism. And that's being headlined by guys like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and others that have been in the front line of political and social issues pertaining to people of color and particularly African Americans. You have young men that are out in the front line building schools, raising money, setting up foundations and creating opportunities for change.

MOSLEY: There's also something else. How do you think recruits like Makur Maker could help change the financial fortunes of HBCU schools who traditionally don't have a big conference contract with ESPN or other sports networks?

BLAKENEY: I think it's an incredible opportunity for athletes to be a part of such an impactful revenue stream, to be quite honest. What happens in situations like this is that universities' applications increase. I think, also, bookstore sales increase. You look at sponsorships and those type of partnerships and relationships. And then I think it also - what happens is it really engages the alums to come be a part of the university, which may in turn offer them a relationship where they can contribute and give back to the universities that they have attended.

MOSLEY: Also may be a lot of pressure. I'm thinking that he can't do it all by himself. And the reality is that Makur could be a one-and-done player. He could go pro after one year.

BLAKENEY: That is so true. You know, I think it was bigger than just the pressure of building a successful program. This was about a movement. This was about an opportunity to be a leader. This was an opportunity for him to be a part of an incredible, I think, history, tradition and culture, which is Howard University. You know, we're a university that's had the first Black Supreme Court justice in Thurgood Marshall, the first Black U.S. ambassador in Andrew Young, the first Black mayor of New York City in David Dinkins. So we're grateful and thankful that Makur is the first five-star athlete to attend an HBCU in Howard University.

MOSLEY: Before I let you go, I have to ask you a little bit about yourself. You have quite a resume. You played at Duke, and then you coached there, too, under the legend Mike Krzyzewski, also known as Coach K. Were you making a statement when you accepted this head coaching position at Howard?

BLAKENEY: I don't know if I was making a statement when I accepted this job at Howard. It was a place that I really wanted to be. I understood the history, the tradition and the culture of the Howard brand and what the alums have done and what they stand for. And quite honestly, with the program having such incredible success, being ranked a Top 80 school in the country, I really felt there was an opportunity to really grow a program that had never really had an opportunity to flourish in the basketball side. I looked at it as an opportunity to really come in and build something that has never been done on a campus that has accomplished a whole lot. And I thought that was - be a kind of neat opportunity to do so here at Howard.

MOSLEY: Kenny Blakeney is the head coach for Howard University's men's basketball team.

Again, thank you for joining us.

BLAKENEY: Thank you, Tonya. You have a wonderful day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.