HBCU players given opportunity at NBA summer league
28 lucky players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities were invited to the recent inaugural HBCU Showcase during the NBA Summer League held in Las Vegas.
In the stands to view their talents were a dozen scouts. Also watching were four former NBA players — all of them now at historically Black colleges and universities — doing the coaching.
The professional league is giving HBCU players opportunities that never presented itself before for players from these schools. With this showcase, the NBA is trying to put together a combination of the right place, right people, and right stuff.
Currently, there’s only one player from an HBCU school in the NBA, Robert Covington of the Los Angeles Clippers. No HBCU player has been drafted into the NBA in a decade.
The NBA has made strides for basketball players in recent years and is trying to address areas where it feels changes are needed. Mo Williams, the former NBA guard who now coaches at Jackson State said, “I’m a visionary. We have a lot of talent at the HBCU level that don’t get those invites to the NBA Combine, to Portsmouth, the G League Combine now, to things like that. We feel like those kids are talented enough to be professional athletes. This is a start.”
Many NBA players have spoken out in the last couple years about the need to help HBCU programs and improve the college experience for those players. There are a record 15 Black coaches in the NBA right now, eight of those hires coming in the last year or so.
“The showcase is a chance for us to continue creating opportunities for the world’s best talent,” said Morgan Cato, an NBA vice president who is about to become an assistant general manager with the Phoenix Suns. “There’s a perception of HBCU programs not necessarily being able to turn out talent. But all of our investments from the league office are about creating opportunity, creating access, and letting great players really have the opportunity to be seen by teams.”
The 2021 NBA All-Star Game generated at least $3 million for HBCU’s through donations to scholarship funds — and the exposure those schools got during the game was worth even more.
The league has started a paid fellowship program that places HBCU students in jobs with the league office and with NBA and WNBA teams. And this past season, All-Star weekend included a game between Howard and Morgan State. And now, the attention turns to individual players.
It’s still a longshot that any of the 28 makes the NBA. But the showcase is seen as a step in the right direction toward getting another HBCU player to the league.
Opportunities for basketball players from HBCUs is following a path created earlier this year for HBCU football players who were denied opportunities to advance to the NFL. Some got the opportunity to showcase their talents in early February when the NFL hosted its first HBCU combine during Senior Bowl workouts.