Every year, top high school basketball players perform a familiar song and dance. First, there is the strong showing on the AAU circuit. That is followed by their high school basketball season in which they typically take home most of their state’s accolades. They play in some high school all-star games in a final bid to showcase their skills, then commit to a college if they haven’t already by that point. Typically, the list of colleges for players of this caliber looks something like this: Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, or Kansas. Some players are pledging to turn this college basketball tradition on its head by including Historically Black Colleges and Universities on that list. Chief among them is the best 15-year-old basketball player in the world, Mikey Williams.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) play sports at the Division 1 level and have had success in the past especially on football and track and field. But as of late, they haven’t been able to lure blue-chip recruits to their programs … but this may be changing.
In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, there was a renewed call for Black athletes to consider taking their talents to Black schools. Mikey Williams made it clear that he will be considering an HBCU when it is time for him to decide. In his own words:
This has been a thought for years..this didn’t just recently pop up in my head..What a lot of coaches don’t understand is that we don’t need them..WE CONTROL OUR OWN NARRATIVE!! I’m very thankful that God blessed me to be in the position to do that..We write our own stories..we determine what the next page in life is going to be..why does it always have to be the big universities? Why does it always have to be the big names? Have you ever thought about helping your own people out??…
Mikey Williams pledge to seriously consider an HBCU is significant because he is a world-class talent even by blue-chip talent standards. He is currently considered the best player in his class. If he were to attend an HBCU he would be the highest-rated player to do so since they started assigning ratings. Williams is already more familiar with HBCU athletics than most as his mother played softball at Hampton.
It’s also not just Williams either. Recently, Norfolk State landed 4-star recruit Nate Tabor. In the world of college athletics, a 4-star player typically isn’t projected to be a star right out of the gate, but they are perceived to have enough talent to become one down the line. It suffices to say they receive an offer from pretty much every school they express interest in. He did have big-time offers: Texas Tech, LSU, UConn, and Auburn, to name a few … but he picked Norfolk State. Though he isn’t perceived to have the talent of a Mikey Williams, his decision might even be bigger news because he did more than consider an HBCU; he committed.
Remember Mo’ne Davis The Little League Baseball World Series phenom from a few years ago? She’s currently playing softball at Hampton which she picked over an offer from an Ivy-League school.
There are real considerations that keep other high-profile players from attending HBCUs. First, there is the issue of winning. Most HBCUs are more than one player away from competing for a national title, even if that one player is the renowned Mikey Williams. Some people dispute this, and maybe even take offense to it. But with respect to the HBCUs, if the talent to compete at the top level was currently there, it wouldn’t be news that a top player was considering them.
Second, if you are a world-class talent you typically want to be treated like one. Fancy dorm rooms, chartered flights, exclusive sneakers, and on-call chefs, but you won’t get those amenities at a small HBCU. You also aren’t going to play on ESPN often, unless you are playing against one of the blue-blood programs. That’s a problem for a player trying to raise their draft profile. It is an even bigger problem when you consider the fact that most scouts will downplay any accomplishments you have in an HBCU athletic conference like the SWAC or MEAC because the “talent isn’t comparable.”
The aforementioned obstacles would probably eventually change if more top players attended those schools, but you would need a critical mass, not just one or two, which is why some individual players are scared away.
There is also the issue of the NCAA system itself. Many people have come to regard college sports as unfair to the athletes as they are not paid for the money they bring in. That would still be the case at an HBCU. This means that players that are good enough to play pro out of high school, like Mikey Williams, may go that direction instead, which we have seen in the past few months.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities have given us athletes like Wilma Rudolph, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, and Shannon Sharpe. What names we will be adding to that list in the coming years is anyone’s guess. We haven’t added names of that caliber in a long time. However, if players like Mikey Williams start giving those schools an honest look, that may change.