Howard head coach Kenny Blakeney: "We'll be one of the most scrutinized teams in the country" | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / May 8.
  • Howard head coach Kenny Blakeney: “We’ll be one of the most scrutinized teams in the country”

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    In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in late May, a number of high-profile prospects have started taking a look at historically black colleges and universities. 

    That came to a head on July 3, when consensus five-star center Makur Makerannounced his commitment to Howard University, becoming the highest-ranked recruit in the modern recruiting era to commit to an HBCU. 

    “I don’t know if it’s a trend or if it’s here to stay, but I do think that some of these five-star athletes are African-American and they’re black,” Blakeney, 48, said in a Zoom Interview Saturday. “I think they want to take a look at seeing or understanding what being educated at a black university, at an HBCU may be like.

    “If we can give more information and if that information can be passed down to these young men and they can have more of an awareness or education about HBCU’s, I think we’re winning in that way.”

    Howard has also become a potential landing spot for some of brightest stars in the 2021 class, including five-star forward Harrison Ingram, who included Howard in his Final Six schools on Saturday

    “It’s kind of like when you start to really think about ‘how does this work?’, right?” Blakeney said. “Like, how does recruiting a five-star work? I think you also have to understand the impact of [what] getting a five-star on your campus means.

    “That impact means that there’s going to be a spike in applicants,” he said. “Students are going to see your name more in social media and traditional media areas. There’s going to be an interest about our University.” 

    Blakeney says he’s talked to 20 filmmakers in the last month that want to do docu-series or documentaries about his program. 

    “The impact of having a five-star kid at a place that’s traditionally never had that type of student-athlete, so it’s certainly an incredible opportunity,” he said. “And now it’s like, how do you build on that? What’s the next step to sustain that kind of momentum that’s with your program right now?” 

    In addition to Maker, Howard is also expected to bring in 5-foot-11 point guard Rahim Ali from Baltimore (MD) Polytechnic Institute, giving the Bison the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the MEAC Conference per 

    “We’ll be one of the most watched teams in the country. We’ll be one of the most scrutinized teams in the country,” Blakeney said. “And now it’s like, what do we do with the results? How do we perform? Do we put a product out there that’s fun to watch and fun to play? Are we winning? Are we representing ourselves in the right way? 

    “Our student-athletes, now that they have all this attention, are they handling it the right way?” Blakeney said. “A big part of this, Jacob, is how do people handle success? People take what they have and can parlay that into something that’s a little more lasting and sustainable.” 

    Due to the coronavirus pandemic, theĀ NCAA has extended the recruiting dead period through Aug. 31, with open gyms unlikely in September, meaning that coaches have been unable to watch prospects in-person, but instead have resorted to live-streams.

    “I don’t think it’s changed,” Blakeney said on his recruiting amidst the pandemic. “We’ve been able to be a little bit more aware of our costs. Our recruiting has become all digital. Watching games on the internet, watching games that may be potentially streamed, having an opportunity to kind of work from home, has, I think for us and for me, made it a little more efficient.” 

    Blakeney says that during the pandemic, he has been working longer hours. 

    “I find myself up at 2 o’clock in the morning working and making calls on the west coast or doing things that help build our program,” he said. “I’ve taken this opportunity to really try to see how many steps we can take to make our program, I use this word all the time, sustainable, viable. That is really important for us.” 

    Blakeney, who was born in Washington, D.C., played his high school basketball at DeMatha Catholic (MD), under the late-great Morgan Wootten, where he was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Maryland.

    “I grew up right down the street from Howard University and it wasn’t anything on my agenda,” he said. “My family doesn’t come from a line of people going to colleges and universities. So, I had several family members that went to an HBCU. Everyone that’s gone through colleges and universities in my family have gone to an HBCU.

    “When I was fortunate enough to be recruited, Howard, which was right down the street from me, didn’t even consider sending me a letter. In that way, I didn’t even think about it. It wasn’t even in my world at that point in time.”

    He then went on to play at Duke University under Hall-of-Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, redshirting during the Blue Devils 1991 NCAA Championship run and serving as a role player during Duke’s 1992 NCAA Championship Title.

    “I got recruited thirty years ago,” Blakeney said. “I think that from a 30-year old perspective, I can kind of talk about my experiences. My experiences were great. I love Duke University.

    “I had Rob Lanier, who was the head coach at Georgia State, once told me when I was a first or second year assistant coach,” he said. “He gave me some great advice. He said ‘hey, if you work for Pepsi, sell Pepsi. If you work for Coke, sell Coke.’ That’s kind of been my mentality. I don’t talk about or worry about other universities. I just want to present our beautiful history and rich tradition.”

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