The year 2020 was one in which four names — Bronny James, Mikey Williams, Makur Maker and Duncan Powell — had the world talking about HBCU basketball programs landing top recruits.
Starting with Bronny James getting offered by North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T in January of that season and ending with Duncan Powell committing to A&T, the conversation about HBCUs finally landing the top-tier talent that had alluded it for so long.
That summer, rising sophomore Mikey Williams said he would be open to the idea of attending an HBCU. At that time, the California guard was considered the top player in the 2023 class. His tweet quickly made its way from blogs and websites like this one to television discussions that involved everyone from regular pundits to NBA players giving their opinions on whether or not they would seriously consider going the HBCU route.
Then came July. Big man Makur Maker, a five-star prospect, announced his commitment to Howard University. It was remarkable for many reasons, most notably the fact that Maker was the highest-rated player in the modern recruiting era to commit to an HBCU.
LeBron James Jr. — AKA Bronny James — was still in his freshman season at Sierra Canyon High School in Jan. 2020. North Carolina Central head coach LeVelle Moton, fresh off his third-consecutive MEAC title, made sure he put his bid in early for the son of the King. A few weeks later, NC A&T offered Bronny James and Zaire Wade, son of Dwyane Wade.
Three years later, James is on the cusp of graduating. He’s considered a four-star guard by 247 Sports, and Ohio State, USC and Oregon are considered to be his top choices. If he goes the college route at all.
“Bronny wants to have a college career,” Savannah James told Sports Illustrated last summer of her eldest son. “I think it would be really cool for him to start with collegiate basketball, just to start his legacy there.”
As for HBCUs, this was a long shot that never really seemed to get off the ground.
Williams, also a member of the 2023 class, was an intriguing possibility back in 2020. He was red hot coming off his freshman season when COVID shut the basketball world down. The son of a former Hampton University athlete, Williams casually tweeted about looking at HBCUs in early June of 2020.
A few months later, Williams went even deeper into the possibility of playing his college ball at an HBCU by listing five of them on his top 10. He would relocate to North Carolina that fall to live with family in the Charlotte area, moving much closer to HBCUs.
As late as last fall, Williams floated the idea of checking out Jackson State. A few weeks later he committed to Memphis where he will play for Penny Hardaway.
The buzz about top players picking HBCUs was already in the air early on Friday, July 3 when Makur Maker shocked the world by choosing Howard University. It was viewed as a complete shock — not only because it was an HBCU — but also because Howard hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament in almost 30 years at that point.
But Maker was sold on Howard by Kenny Blakeney, who was coming off a four-win first season as the school’s head coach.
Maker made his debut that November, but he went down with a nagging groin injury two games into the 2020-2021 season. That season was marked COVID-19 for Howard as so many players were hit with the virus and so many games missed that it eventually shut down. That was all she wrote for Maker, who played only a pair of games fof the MEAC squad.
Maker would declare for the 2022 NBA Draft and spend a year playing in Australia before getting signed to a contract with the Capital City Go-Go.
By the time the fall rolled around, HBCU basketball and football recruiting discussions were at an all-time high. Powell was ranked a four-star by ESPN and made it known he was excited about playing at an HBCU.
“I’m just ready to get there and dominate. That’s as simple as it gets.”
Powell played this season under interim head coach Phillip Shumpert, but was recruited by former A&T coach Will Jones whose tenure ended abruptly last summer. Jones also offered Bronny James and Zaire Wade back in 2020.
The 6’8 forward averaged eight points per game during the 2022-2023 season — his first basketball season since his junior year at DeSoto HS in 2019-2020. Knee injuries kept him out of his senior season of high school and he made just one brief appearance as a freshman at NC A&T, recording one foul.
Three years later, none of these talented individuals are committed to an HBCU basketball program. It’s likely that Bronny never ever considered it and that Mikey Williams didn’t give it much more thought. There will always be the question of what could have happened if Maker didn’t run into health issues in a once-in-a-century season or if the A&T program had kept it all together once Duncan got on the floor.
The bigger question is where do HBCUs go now? Do they continue to gun for four and five stars or do they continue to look for unheralded gems to develope and hope they stick around long enough to pan out while mining the transfer portal? Those questions likely aren’t going anywhere any time soon.