A season that began with hope has concluded with heartbreak. Howard University’s season was canceled on Feb. 9, due to COVID-19 exposure among members of the team. The virus spread quickly among the Bison, even reaching Howard’s highly touted freshman, Makur Maker, who announced he was diagnosed on Jan. 11 on Instagram Live.
Maker, a five-star recruit who made news last summer when he selected Howard over UCLA, Kentucky and Memphis, only played in two of the Bison’s five completed games. Now, with the cancellation of the season, he is faced with another big decision: whether to stay or declare for the NBA draft.
The first ESPN 100 player to commit to a historically black college and university (HBCU), the 6-11 Maker was expected to give the school’s basketball profile a major boost. He told ESPN last summer that he chose Howard with intentions of bringing wealth to the university and the greater black community. However, in the same interview, he also said: “If you’re a one-and-done talent, why not leave? My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA. If that takes me a year, I’m all for it. If it takes me two years, I’m all for it. I know I’m an NBA lottery talent… [so] if I’m good in a year I’m definitely out.”
Howard head coach Kenny Blakeney says he doesn’t know what the future holds for the school’s biggest player ever.
“We’ve talked, and ultimately it’s his goal and dream to play in the NBA and from where I’m sitting, it’s something that he probably will take a look at,” Blakeney said in an interview. “But I don’t know [what he’ll do]… if there’s a team that loves him and gives him a great opportunity, that’s something he should look at, and we support his decision 100%.”
But with Maker’s extremely limited playing time, it’s difficult to tell what decision he’ll make. Irwin Kishner, co-chair of the Sports Law Group at New York law firm Herrick Feinstein, thinks Maker will depart for the NBA.
“If I’m his agent, I have a fiduciary duty to tell him how to make the most money possible,” he said. “In a limited playing career, giving up a year of big money could have a profound effect on it. The question is what’s [Maker’s] value system and how important is the dollar versus giving back?”
Not everyone is of the same mindset, though. “I would think he’d stick it out another year,” said Frank Vuono, co-founder and co-partner of 16W marketing. “He certainly didn’t prove anything at an elite level. I think if he was really so well-ambitioned, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, I think he would want to make the contributions to the program that he originally intended and also prove himself a little more on the court.”
On the other side of Maker’s decision is Howard University, which hasn’t been able to reap the full benefits of having its most prominent sports recruit in the school’s 153-year history. Though the Bison had three of their five games on ESPN3 and ESPN+, they were forced to cancel a nationally televised game against Notre Dame on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Howard isn’t the only Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team to call off its season—Bethune-Cookman and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore canceled spring sports entirely—the cancellation could have an effect on future recruits choosing Howard or other HBCUs in the future, seeing them as less a sure thing than “blue blooded” programs.
Blakeney, however, says the entire college basketball season has been abnormal. “This has been the most unique basketball season in the history of the game,” he said. “When you look at programs that have won multiple national championships, and they’re having average years. What kind of year is it where you have four of the best blue bloods in the country out of the Top 25? It’s unheard of.”
Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA are all unranked in the latest AP poll.
Kishner and Vuono agree that the year should be taken with a grain of salt. “Health and safety always have to prevail,” Kishner said. “The university made a decision, and you have to respect that.”
Said Vuono: “I think you throw this season away. There were so many anomalies… [that] I don’t think that the past year hurts anything.”
With the prospect of losing their biggest player ever without a full season, Howard hoops might beg to differ.