Makur Maker

How Lamelo Ball playing in Australia factored into 5-star recruit Makur Maker’s decision to choose Howard

How Lamelo Ball playing in Australia factored into 5-star recruit Makur Maker’s decision to choose Howard

When 2020 five-star recruit Makur Maker committed to Howard University in D.C., he sent shockwaves through the entire landscape of the basketball world, becoming the first top recruit to announce his intent to play at a historically Black college or university (HBCU) since Earl Jones played for the University of the District of Columbia in 1980.

While the decision was intricate and monumental on a multitude of levels, Maker revealed an interesting layer of his decision-making process:

He thought of future NBA lottery pick LaMelo Ball.

"I figured if LaMelo Ball could go to Australia, play in facilities like that, and still be considered a top NBA prospect, why not Howard?" Maker said.

Ball's path to the draft very well may be one of the most remarkable in sports history. Fast-forwarding to his final season at SPIRE, Ball was not eligible to attend college, therefore he agreed to a deal with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia to play in the NBL. 

RELATED: HOWARD FINALIST FOR 2021 FIVE STAR DEFENSIVE END

The decision was heavily scrutinized nationally with many believing it would drastically decrease his draft stock -- one disclosed scout told USA Today “the untraditional route (NBL) will almost certainly cost him (LaMelo) once draft night approaches."

After averaging 17.0 points, 6.8 assists, and 7.4 rebounds in the NBL and having his season cut short due to a bone bruise in his left foot, Ball is in the conversation to go the number one overall in the upcoming draft.

Point made. 

"People also sleep on the competitive nature of the MEAC [Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference]," Maker said. "The pace and open flow style of play of the MEAC is more similar to the NBA, in my opinion. It’s a read-and-react league, so it will definitely help me get ready for the NBA."

Former head coach and NBC Sports Washington basketball analyst Jimmy Patsos, believes in Makers' decision and thinks it could spark a huge movement within college basketball. 

"If one person can lead a revolution, one person can lead a movement, this could be the guy," Patsos said on Friday. "Why not him changing the landscape of college basketball?"

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Jimmy Patsos believes Howard's Makur Maker could lead a movement within college basketball

Jimmy Patsos believes Howard's Makur Maker could lead a movement within college basketball

Makur Maker's decision to go to Howard University to play basketball shocked the college basketball world. It marked the potential start of a new trend: five-star recruits choosing to play at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

And for former head coach and NBC Sports Washington basketball analyst Jimmy Patsos, it could spark a huge movement within college basketball. 

"If one person can lead a revolution, one person can lead a movement, this could be the guy," Patsos said on Friday. "Why not him changing the landscape of college basketball?"

Patsos saw the abilities of Maker first-hand at Steph Curry's Select Camp. He says the 6-foot-11 player can do it all and, even before his monumental commitment to the Bison, had the tools to be a transcendent player within the sport. 

"He does everything. Like, he could shoot the ball, he could handle the ball. He reminds me of a little bigger Luol Deng, who's also from [Africa]," Patsos said referring to Maker's birth country of Kenya.

"He's not just another player. He's a 6-11 guy that does it all. He's not Magic Johnson, he's not going to play the point, but he handles the ball well."

In Patsos' eyes, Maker has a bigger upside than Chet Holgrem - the No. 3 recruit of the 2021 class according to 247sports - who has yet to commit. Holgrem is another lanky center, whose skill set is similar to the new Bison player. Many regard Holgrem as another great high school prospect in the same conversation with the Kevin Durants of the world in years past.

Not only is Patsos high on Maker, he thinks he should be a top lottery pick... for this season... and is better than his cousin, Thon Maker, who plays for the Detroit Pistons.

"Basketball-wise, I had him rated as a lottery pick this year. I would have taken him in the lottery this year myself because I think the draft is a little down anyways," Patsos said. 

On top of his on-the-court skills, Patsos is most intrigued at how Maker can become a star within the game. He's extremely personable, has high character and is outgoing. Especially being the highest-ranked recruit to play at an HBCU, that will be further amplified at Howard.

RELATED: A RECORD JUMP IN KENPOM RANKINGS BY ADDING MAKER

Of all the HBCUs, Howard is the most prestigious. It boasts an incredible position in academics and a storied law school. While the Bison may have a modest basketball program even for HBCU standards, the school is the flagship. 

"You say Howard, it's like saying Harvard," Patsos said. "I think it's a credit to the city and I think it says a lot about what Howard has done. Howard, academically, is fantastic but the rejuvenation of that area of Washington D.C., I think he had a fantastic visit. You know there is a lot going on in Washington right now, clearly. It's just a world-class city. But I'd say the most important reason was he's decided to put historically Black college on the map for basketball."

Second-year head coach Kenny Blakeney also deserves a ton of credit for navigating this recruitment of Maker. Spending time to cater to the rising college freshman, ranked No. 17 in the 2020 class, who traditionally would not even consider the school given other offers is not an easy task. 

Often, it results in wasted time and resources where another recruiting target could be elsewhere. With Kentucky, UCLA, Memphis and others trying to lure the center, it further amplified his decision. 

"You've got to give Kenny Blakeney an unbelievable amount of credit for hanging in there ... It would have been easy to say no, hung in there and showed the young man the possibilities of a fantastic time at Howard, even if it's only for a year," Patsos said. 

The ripple effects of Maker going to Howard will not be seen immediately, Sure, the Bison will be favorites in the MEAC next year and if all goes well has a really good shot at not being in a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. But Maker will likely go pro once eligible after he plays his first season and be a one-and-done. How he plays at Howard, how he's embraced and what Maker will do at the next level is how the recruiting game could change at HBCUs.

This is something that has never happened before. While many historically Black schools have a history of NBA players (Charles Oakley, Ben Wallace, Earl Monroe), no recruits had the hype of Maker. 

"This could be revolutionary and changing the way players look at historically Black colleges, which is great," Patsos said. "Everyone knows where Howard is, who's been there, it has this fantastic reputation, as it should. But, this could change it as a landscape for kids hoping to play basketball there. And I applauded him. He answered the bell. The BLM movement is real and it's necessary."

"I can't wait to see what happens."

Coronavirus permitting, Maker will likely take his first steps on Howard's campus as a member of the program in August. Until that day, Blakeney will likely be sweating until he sees him show up for the first practice. And once Maker does, everyone will just watch and wait for how and if HBCU basketball programs will forever be changed.

"Is it a one-time thing? Or does it change everything?" Patsos said. "Everyone's going to be watching... This could be revolutionary,"

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Howard makes a massive jump in preseason KenPom rankings after Makur Maker commitment

Howard makes a massive jump in preseason KenPom rankings after Makur Maker commitment

The Howard men's basketball program was forever changed once 2020 five-star recruit Makur Maker announced his decision to play with the Bison next season

While this is a monumental step for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as a whole, this is also a really big deal for the current Howard program. 

Last season, Howard was 4-29 (1-15 MEAC). Only three of those wins were against Division I opponents. Literally they were one of the worst teams in college basketball.

But with Maker that will change things. Not only will they vault to title favorites in the MEAC, but their national profile and coverage will greatly improve. Already Ken Pomeroy, who is the developer behind one of the most trusted metrics in the sport (KenPom), has the Bison taking a huge step by simply adding the five-star center. 

RELATED: ARE TOP PROSPECTS GOING TO HBCUs A NEW TREND?

That meant Howard was going to be second-to-last in Division I for Pomeroy's preseason rankings this year. Going to 252nd gives them a 27% jump by the addition of a single player. 

That will be the largest jump by a player - ever, according to Pomeroy. 

Makur is a 6-foot-11 player that is projected to be a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. His cousin, Thon Maker, plays for the Pistons in the NBA.

All signs point to Howard being the class of the MEAC next season, but overall the quality of the league as a whole will improve with Maker. 

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