Makur Maker chose Howard over blueblood programs, so now comes the big question: Will others soon follow?

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When five-star 2020 prospect Makur Maker announced his commitment to Howard on July 3, it amounted to a thunderclap in college basketball recruiting. 

The news cracked the top of the daily headline cycle in the sports world, going so far as to prompt LeBron James to congratulate Maker on Instagram. 

Six days removed from his announcement, Maker is doing a mini media tour and going into detail about why he chose Howard over UCLA, Kentucky and Memphis. Today, July 9, is South Sudan’s Independence Day (Maker’s parents are from South Sudan), so his intentions have been specific about this. It’s a day of extreme importance for him, the most appropriate time to divulge what went into his pledge to Howard. 

“Independence to me means freedom to choose,” Maker said on Thursday’s edition of the ESPN Daily podcast. 

His verbal commitment to Howard is unparalleled in the past four decades in college basketball. Top-50 prospects do not choose to play in the MEAC — but Maker has. And his choice has plenty wondering if he can prompt a revolution of similar commitments in the years to come.

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Maker told The Undefeated: “The reason behind my decision? I dare to be different, and I always consider myself to be a leader. I want to change the current culture and climate that has kept five-star athletes like myself from viewing HBCUs as a viable choice. I have no idea why it’s been over 40 years that not even one five-star basketball player in the United States has decided to play basketball at an HBCU. But I do know that, in this Black Lives Matter movement that’s empowered and assembled many different people across the country and the world, that it won’t be another 40 years until it happens again.”

The 7-footer, ranked 17th in 2020, has brought about an opportunity and could be the first of many — not just in basketball. On Wednesday, Korey Foreman — the No. 1 overall football recruit in the class of 2021 — announced his seven finalists and included Howard alongside the likes of Alabama, LSU, Clemson and Georgia. Eye-catching, to say the least. 

In basketball, the question now becomes: What’s next for HBCUs? Can Maker spark something bigger? Has he already, when you see what Foreman has announced in the next step of his recruitment?

“Obviously it was big news when Makur Maker decided to pick Howard, basically over UCLA,” 247Sports lead college basketball recruiting analyst Brian Snow said. “A few prospects have taken visits to HBCUs, or listed them in their final group, none have gone there, though, before Maker. This dates back even to OJ Mayo and Bill Walker, who had Florida A&M listed as a finalist. The question becomes: does Maker start a trend? While no one can say for sure, and I do think HBCUs will be more notable in certain recruitments of high-level players, quite honestly Makur Maker is not someone who starts a trend. He is not someone who is this super-popular kid on the circuit. He has bounced from school to school, and he was even somebody who most thought was headed pro.”

I have heard similar sentiment in recent days. Behind the scenes, warranted or not, there is still skepticism over whether Maker ultimately balks on Howard to try and go pro by year’s end. Maker’s not oblivious to this, but he says that’s not happening. 

“Believe and hear what I say,” Maker told ESPN’s Pablo Torre on ESPN Daily. “I’m not a person who’s going to say one thing and do the other. I trust my work, I’m in the gym every single day and I’m not afraid about the moment. People are thinking this is a sacrifice I’m making … but it’s not a sacrifice.”

But what Snow said above is something that shouldn’t be overlooked: the culture of basketball at the AAU/grassroots level has its trends and influences due to not just star NBA and college players, but the actions and attitudes of a few players in every class who become tastemakers based on their skillsets and personalities. 

Because of his nomad-like existence in playing with so many different teams and schools throughout his high school career, Maker is not one of those players. He’s not as influential as an Emoni Bates or, more poignant to this conversation, Mikey Williams — the No. 1-rated player in the class of 2023.

“If it was a different player, such as 2023 prospect Mikey Williams,” Snow said, “then there might be more ‘bounce’ so to speak, but Maker just isn’t that guy who is going to start a trend in all likelihood. Now, if a few other prospects go, have success, and have a good time, then we could see a trend. But while Maker has the flashy name, to be a trailblazer you have to have a following amongst your peers, and quite simply Maker doesn’t have that.”

Instead, Maker’s influence could primarily rely on a) getting to college and b) having a mostly functional season in 2020-21 to allow him to thrive at Howard. With the Ivy League already deciding to cancel all sports activities for the fall, it sets an ominous tone for the academic year ahead. Maker playing on television and being seen in a Howard uniform, perhaps on his way to being an NBA pick in 2021, is probably crucial to this movement. 

The murder of George Floyd and the United States’ ensuing civil rights crusade has arguably created as defining and transcendent of an event in this country as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Maker told ESPN Daily that Floyd’s murder was “probably the knock on the nose that made me do this.” 

Maker makes for a compelling and convincing messenger. Hearing and reading his words, it’s easy to grasp his reasons for doing this. But he’s also chosen to play for a team that won four games last season and hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in almost 30 years. There is much work to be done. If Maker is going to be the first of many, what he does on the court — if he can play college basketball next season — will be as pivotal as any other motivating factor for future recruits who wait to see what else this path can offer.


Matt Norlander

2020-07-09 14:32:14

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