When high school basketball phenom Makur Maker chose Howard University over college basketball powerhouses UCLA, Kentucky, and Memphis on July 3, his decision generated multiple reactions and placed Black college athletics into the national sports lexicon.
In September 2019, Jemele Hill of The Atlantic asked, “what if a group of elite athletes collectively made the choice to attend HBCUs?” in her editorial piece entitled “It’s Time for Black athletes to Leave White Colleges.“ It appears that we will begin to get that answer (if spring sports are to be played this coming season) when the 18th-best boys’ basketball player in the nation, according to 247Sports.com, starts his collegiate career playing at “The Burr” on the Howard University campus.
The addition of upper-tier talent to HBCU sports will have positive ramifications in a plethora of ways. What Ms. Hill did not account for was how influential the adults in the lives of these student-athletes, primarily their parents, can be and how they can sway where these kids will eventually spend their life after high school. Rapper-turned-podcaster, Gillie da Kid, would become the embodiment of this “guidance,” rooted in biased opinions.
In Episode 68 of his podcast titled “Million Dollaz Worth of Game,” the Philly rapper can be heard yelling the following:
“If that was my [expletive] son, he wouldn’t be goin’ to [expletive] Howard University, man” because he believes that the Bison’s lack of television exposure would negatively affect his theoretical child’s NBA draft position.
You are probably familiar with the concept that exposure, most-notably through televised games, will improve the chances, as well as the draft position, of a student-athlete when they eventually decide to become a professional. Unfortunately, there are many parents, cousins, uncles, and even coaches who believe in this theory. It is this thought process that has led to a lot of Black student-athletes choosing majority-white colleges over HBCUs.
This assumption, along with a few others declared by Gillie throughout this episode, can easily be debunked. I will attempt to do just that, primarily for the student-athletes wavering where to attend college, but this is also for adults who are holding on to misinformation.
For those unfamiliar, the amount of exposure that a college program receives can be attributed to the size of the institution. Schools with larger enrollment have larger budgets. Large budgets are used to build exuberant facilities that tend to attract top talent. Fans enjoy watching top talent. With this ready-made viewership, networks like ESPN/ABC, FOX, CBS, and NBC shell out large amounts of money to broadcast their events.
Within men’s Division I college basketball, schools compete in 32 conferences. There is a line of demarcation that separates one conference from another based upon, but not limited to, the total enrollment/attendance of its member institutions, notoriety, performance, national perception, and — you’ve guessed it — exposure. Programs on the higher end of this spectrum are often called “Power Conferences,” “The Elite Eight” or “High-Majors.” Those conferences would include the American Athletic Conference (AAC), Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Atlantic-10 Conference (A-10), Big East Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The remaining 24 are commonly known as “Mid-Majors,” which would include the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference, Hampton of the Big South, and the Ohio Valley Conference’s Tennessee State.
The programs within “The Elite Eight,” like Louisville, Villanova, Michigan, and Florida, are all in conferences that have T.V. networks owned and operated by more substantial media conglomerates. But before I continue, this leads me to one of Gillie’s comments where he and I agree.
“It ain’t no [expletive] way that a [expletive] goin’ to Howard University is gonna get the same T.V. exposure as a [expletive] goin’ to Michigan, Michigan State, Texas, Duke, (and) North Carolina.”
Gillie is right. Unlike the programs mentioned earlier, Howard — along with the other members of the MEAC — does not have a television network operated by the likes of ESPN or FOX. The MEAC (along with the SWAC) currently has a contract to televise select events with ESPN and FloSports, but that does not compare to the amount of programming a conference with a network will broadcast on an annual basis. Side note: Howard University DOES have a local television network, but it will not allow the athletics department to air sporting events.
With that said, Gillie’s claim that you must have exposure to improve your draft position is a farce, and you won’t have to go far in the past to discredit this statement.
In last year’s NBA Draft, Ja Morant would become the second overall selection out of “Mid-Major” Murray State, behind Duke’s Zion Williamson. Along with Morant, Goga Bitadze (18th, Indiana) and Darius Bazley (23rd, Utah) were both drafted in the top 25 even with little to no U.S. T.V. exposure because they did not play in the NCAA.
Enes Kanter (2011; 2nd, Utah), Damian Lillard (2012; 9th, Portland), CJ McCollum (2013; 10th, Portland), Dante Exum (2014; 5th, Utah), Elfrid Payton (2014; 10th, Philadelphia), Kristaps Porzingis (2015, 4th, New York), Makur’s cousin Thon Maker (2016, 6th, Milwaukee) and Luka Dončić (2018, 3rd, Atlanta) are other players who received little to no exposure but were selected in the top ten of their respective draft.
Later in the podcast, Gillie continued with, “how this [expletive] is broken down, it goes in picks. OK, so it [goes], you the first pick, you get this amount of money. If you’re the second pick, you get less than him. If you’re the third pick, you get less than him. Don’t nobody want to be the 49th [expletive] pick because you went to [expletive] Howard instead of one of these top programs.”
Well, he is kind of correct here too. The NBA works under a rookie salary scale, meaning the salary a player receives under the rookie contract depends upon their draft position. For example, Williamson, the number one overall pick in last year’s draft, will receive a little over $2 million more than the number two pick, Morant, over the first two years of their contract. That number drops off by a little over $10 million when you get to the eighth overall selection. So, yes, there is a considerable difference in annual salary based upon your draft position, but being taken 49th (out of 60 picks) has little to do with where you played collegiately.
Quinndary Weatherspoon, the 49th pick in last year’s NBA Draft, attended Mississippi State, a member of the SEC. Even though Weatherspoon competed in a conference with a network, there were nine guys drafted ahead of him in the first and second rounds of that year’s draft that received little to no television exposure.
It would happen again in 2018 when Chimezie Metu of USC, the 49th pick in that year’s draft, would have eight players selected ahead of him that did not play in the NCAA. USC is a member of the Pac-12, a “High-Major,” which also has a network.
If you were to review the drafts over the past ten years, you would see student-athletes who played with “High-Major” programs selected around the 49th slot. And yes, those who had a lot of exposure would have multiple guys have chosen ahead of them that had little to none. Note: The 49th pick of the 2012 NBA Draft was Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn, one of twenty players selected that year that has played eight consecutive seasons in the league.
I do understand that Gillie was using that draft position as an example. As you can see, lack of exposure will not relegate a student-athlete looking to participate in the NBA to a lower draft pick, nor will be playing at a “High-Major” automatically translate to a high selection.
Note that I said “NBA.” If he were referring to the NFL, this debate would be a little different.
Pro football scouts and general managers have faced criticism for their propensity of being lazy and tend to rely on known commodities from FCS programs. Those tendencies were displayed in April’s NFL Draft when there were as many, if not more, prospects selected from Power Five FBS programs LSU (14), Michigan (10), Ohio State (10), Alabama (9), Clemson (7), Florida (7), Georgia (7), and Utah (7) as there were chosen from the FCS, Division II, and Division III ranks combined (7).
If Gillie would have been discussing the merits of playing for a PWI, primarily within a Power Five conference, as it related to being select in the NFL Draft, at best, all I could have done was get upset, shrug my shoulders and begrudgingly agree with him based off of this most recent draft.
But this is the NBA, and Maker is one of the best high school basketball players in the world. He is “six-foot forty.” Pro scouts already recognize his abilities and will continue to follow his progress. And whenever he decides to leave Howard, he will be playing in the NBA If he shows steady improvement.
But Gillie continues to bloviate when he hedges his bets with this statement. “[Expletive] no! He ain’t going’ in the top ten! I’m sayin’ it now … and if he go in the top ten, imagine where he would’ve went … if he would’ve got all the exposure.”
No one can adequately predict a pro sports draft one year out. Maker could suffer an injury that could potentially lower his draft stock. Unknown players that will eventually be in his draft class could surpass his ability. A lot of things can happen. I refuse to believe that playing at an HBCU will hurt his draft positioning, but the stats based on where he is currently ranked as a player speak volumes.
Players that have been ranked between 15th and 20th in the nation by 247Sports.com over the past three years, so far, have not been selected in the top ten of their respective draft classes. As I stated before, Maker is currently ranked 18th, but it is not a foregone conclusion that he will go in one of the first ten picks.
One-third of the top ten picks over the last three years have been players that were ranked lower than fifteen.
These stereotypes about HBCUs and excuses on why talented student-athletes should not attend them are just too prevalent, especially within the Black community. These hackneyed theories span from ‘sacrificial lambs’ choosing HBCUs over Elite Eight programs to praising Black colleges on their abilities to educate, but believing they cannot produce pro athletes due to poor coaching and inadequate facilities. Even former NBA Champion Dwyane Wade recently commented on Maker attending Howard.
“I love this move that this young man has made, but this is my dilemma with this move. If the bigger programs don’t schedule Howard, on their schedule, we will not get a chance to see this young man. If T.V. execs don’t get their games on T.V., we will not get a chance to see this young man. Howard University plays in an arena that seats less than 3,000 people. You go to these other arenas — Kentucky, all these big schools — they seat 10, 20,000 people. I love the move he made, and I hope other Black athletes chose to do HBCUs, but college basketball and everyone else has to do their job to make sure that the HBCUs are pulled up from the dirt because that’s where they are right now.”
But when asked about playing in a small arena — Howard’s Burr Gymnasium has a maximum capacity of 2,700 — Maker told TNT Network’s Cari Champion, “If LaMelo Ball can do it from Australia and I know the facilities there are nothing, and he’s already a lottery pick, perhaps number one, why can’t I do it?”
Over the past two years, no one has complained about the size of the arena NBA prospect LaMelo Ball is playing in as a member of the National Basketball League’s Illawarra Hawks. The Hawks 2019-2020 home attendance in the WIN Entertainment Center — which had a 10% increase from the previous season — averaged 3,437 per game. That is less than the maximum capacity of six MEAC arenas and within 400 more of three more. And how many NBL games have you watched on U.S. television?
It seems like everyone loves the concept of talented athletes attending HBCUs, but no one wants to be Neil Armstrong.
I understand that all of this is new to some. People fear change, and no one knows what to expect, as it pertains to how high an HBCU student-athlete can be selected in a professional sports draft.
It has been almost 25 years since an HBCU product was last selected in the first round of the NBA Draft (Central State’s Priest Lauderdale, 28th Pick, Atlanta, 1996). But can you name the last times a five-star athlete has been a member of any HBCU roster?
I also must ask, why are these kids going to college anyway? I understand the draft eligibility rules for the NBA, but does it mean that a student-athlete must play in front of large crowds? If you are good, the pro scouts will find you. And if you play basketball, you know who you are when you are a high school sophomore. Why not play in an environment that you believe is best for you? And in this current social climate, these Black students are discovering that they will be nurtured, both emotionally and physically, on an HBCU campus.
I believe you should go where you are comfortable. If high school student-athletes want to further their careers at HBCUs — and it appears that a lot of these kids are at least exploring this as a strong possibility — don’t allow antiquated and dubious theories to hinder their decision.