On Friday, Makur Maker committed to Howard University and became the first ESPN top 100 basketball athlete to commit to an historically black college or university. Maker, the No. 16 recruit in the nation, out of Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, Ariz., chose Howard over the University of Kentucky, UCLA and Memphis. Still, change isn’t going to happen overnight. Howard will likely need several top-notch recruits to commit to their program in order to see an increase in athletic budget.
Maker could potentially assist in making major shifts to the school widely considered to be the “Mecca” of Black education. Success, however, has not translated onto the court: The Bison have won just 31 of their last 100 games. But the 6′ 11″ center has already had an impact, at least in the rankings—Howard jumped 97 spots from 352 to 255 in renowned basketball advanced stats analyst Ken Pomeroy’s preseason rankings.
Howard continues to face an uphill battle in terms of budget, TV exposure, athletic facilities and the ongoing effects of COVID-19.
Starting with resources: For Maker’s final four schools, the difference in athletic budget is astronomical. The University of Kentucky’s basketball budget is $20.2 million, while UCLA’s is $15.5 million. Howard, which plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, has a budget of $12 million for its entire athletic department.
Much of that money comes from TV, and Howard’s opportunities have been limited. Last season the Bison had zero TV appearances and only two games were broadcast live; one on ESPN+ and another on streaming service FloHoops. Makur could increase the likelihood of Howard striking deals with local TV stations, which would increase revenue as well as exposure.
“We are the MEAC’s primary media partner with flexibility as to the number of games across sports we can select off the top,” ESPN told Sportico.
Howard’s basketball schedule has not yet been revealed but one notable opponent next season will be against Notre Dame on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“One great recruit wouldn’t necessarily have outsized media right value to Howard,” said sports media consultant Chris Bevilacqua.
“I don’t think he did it because it’s going to make him the best, it’s more of a cultural thing,” said Happy Walters, the CEO and co-founder of the Catalyst Sports firm. Walters also represents R.J. Hampton, a 5-star recruit who chose to play pro basketball in Australia rather than go to college. “If [Maker] succeeds, anything is possible for Howard, but more than likely this will be a one-off.”
Howard University declined to comment because although Maker verbally committed on Friday, NCAA regulations state that the university cannot comment until Maker signs his official national letter of intent, which he is expected to do before Aug. 1.
Maker is already lobbying other prized recruits to join him in paving a way for high school athletes to attend HBCUs. “I need to make this HBCU movement real so others will follow. I hope I inspire guys like Mikey Williams to join me on this journey,” he said in a tweet.
Mikey Williams, a 16-year-old basketball player from San Ysidro, California is one of the recruits that has teased attending an HBCU. On June 2, he tweeted, in a since deleted post, “going to an HBCU wouldn’t be too bad… 👀.” Williams is currently ranked 3rd in the top 25 players in the Class of 2023. Williams’s mother, Charisse, played softball at Howard’s rival school, Hampton University.
Howard is the first HBCU to have success in recruiting an ESPN top 100 basketball athlete. Other HBCUs like North Carolina Central University and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University have also begun to shoot for the stars, offering scholarships to both Dwyane Wade’s son Zaire, as well as LeBron James’s son Bronnie in the past year.