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Howard University basketball has bright future

Howard University basketball has re-emerged with national spotlight after years of languishing in the dark. The challenge is to keep it that way.

There were no tears in Kenneth Blakeney’s eyes after Howard University suffered a first round loss to Kansas University. 

No doubt, Howard’s 96-68 loss to the top seed stung even though it was expected by most. But Blakeney found a silver lining for a team that had done something that hadn’t been done since before they were a twinkle in their parent’s eyes. 

“I just love how they have grown as people and have become better men over the course of the season,” he told the media. “That’s a victory that no one can take away from us. And I’m thrilled that we were able to represent Howard University in a classy way that honored so many people before us. The legacy of Howard and so many people that’s going to walk those steps afterwards.”

Kenny Blakeney took the long road

Getting Howard to this point has been a five-year endeavor, one that started with a four-win season that led led into the COVID-19 Era.

From there Howard shocked the world when Blakeney landed five-star Makur Maker only to see injuries and COVID limit the team’s season to less than 10 games. Last year’s squad began to show promise, but it flamed out in the MEAC Tournament — just like every Howard team had done for the previous thirty years. 

Same old Howard. Or so many of us thought. 

But Blakeney added key pieces heading into the season like transfers Jelani Williams (Penn) and Sean Dockery (Maryland) to go along with his own recruits. The result was a team with lots of size and talent. And perhaps most important — grit. 

“These guys here, nobody gave them a chance,” Blakeney said after the team’s MEAC title win. “A lot of people gave up on them. That’s our whole team. We have a team a guys that people didn’t believe in. People gave up on. People thought they were out after thoughts and to see this moment come to fruition after a lot of hard work on everybody’s part. It was absolutely wonderful.”

Steve Settle III, Elijah Hawkins
Howard University’s Elijah Hawkins and Steve Settle walk off the court at the Norfolk Scope.

Howard University must invest to keep winning

Howard has three big building blocks set to return in Elijah Hawkins, Steve Settle III and Shy Odom. 

Settle finished with 13 points against Kansas, hitting three of his six 3-point attempts. The 6’10 junior said the biggest thing for him this season has been adapting to doing things besides scoring. 

“I’ve had to learn how to impact the game in other ways other than scoring,” Settle said after the Kansas loss. “I think that’s been the most valuable thing for me. I feel like coming into the season, I just thought of myself as a scorer, but Coach KB and my whole team challenged me to become something more than that.”

Hawkins, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, scored 12 points and dished out eight assists. He also turned the ball over seven times. 

Odom is the youngest of the bunch, and might have the highest ceiling. He put up a team-high 15 points to go with eight rebounds and three assists. 

Howard seems set up for long-term success — from the youth of its core to its new relationship with with Jordan. That deal is the only one of its kind among HBCU’s. 

For so long, as much as Howard University has been revered by the outside world for its academic acumen, its lack of success in basketball and football over the years has been a running joke in HBCU circles.

But Blakeney and his flourishing program have show that Howard University has the ability to shine on the court as well as off it. 

Now that the secret is out, it will be up to the Howard administration to keep the momentum going — starting with keeping a riding star like Blakeney. If it can do that, the sky is the limit. 

Howard University basketball has bright future
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