The Howard Bison men’s basketball program hasn’t had much to cheer about over the last 30 seasons. With the legendary HBCU’s last MEAC conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth coming in 1992, the program became an afterthought. That is until the program hired Washington native and two-time national championship winner as a player at Duke Kenny Blakeney.
For their efforts, the 16th-seeded Bison will face No.1 seed Kansas in the first-round of West Regional action at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa at 2 p.m. ET. Of course, nobody is giving them a shot. The Jayhawks, the No. 1 seed in the West Regional, are set to play No. 16 Howard seed at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa at 2 p.m. ET.
Can Howard Bison Upset No. 1 Seed Kansas
Since the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament expanded to 64 teams back in ’85, a 16-seed has only beaten a 1-seed once.
In 2018 the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers, 20.5 point underdogs to No. 1 seed Virginia, made March Madness magic and defeated the Cavaliers by 20 points.
The odds are not in Howard’s favor, but this is a golden era of sorts for HBCUs and Blakeney has shown that the only limits are those that you place on yourself.
Who Is Kenny Blakeney?
Blakeney arrived in 2019, and after going 5-33 overall and 1-15 in the MEAC in his first two seasons, things looked bleak. Fast-forward to the past two seasons, and some solid recruits, a team identity and culture change have seen the Bison go 38-24 overall and 20-8 in the MEAC.
That culminated in Saturday’s big comeback win over Norfolk State in the conference championship game to advance to the program’s first NCAA Tourney in over 30 years.
This is why graduate student-athlete Jelani Williams, who hit the game-winning free throws, says he chose to attend the HBCU known as “The Mecca.”
In a postgame interview Williams, told Washington Post:
“I thought, ‘This is why I came to Howard. I’ve waited all my life for a moment like this. I’m never letting go of this ball. I knew this was my last chance to go to the NCAAs, and I was going make it happen.”
Blakeney Has Focused On Recruiting The DMV
Known as a basketball hotbed, the DMV is always oozing with talent. Upon his arrival to HU, Blakeney landed five-star recruit Makur Maker, but after two games, he was ruled out for the season due to a groin injury. That forced Blakeney to lock in heavily on the immediate area, and that subtle change in his recruiting philosophy has paid off. Of the Bison’s 12-man roster, six are DMV natives. Four of the team’s five leading scorers are also from the area, led by guard Elijah Hawkins, who leads the team in scoring, and assists.
It’s a real credit to Blakeney’s belief in going after talent in the area, and those players buying into his vision of a program in rebuild mode.
History Repeats Itself For Bison
The last time Howard made “The Dance” they were coached by Butch Beard and led by star players Milan Brown and Julius McNeil. And as fate would have it, after winning the MEAC that season they drew top-seeded Kansas in the opening round. While they were blown out, the fact that they made it was huge for Beard and his program. As for Blakeney and his 2023 version, they’ll face the top-seeded Jayhawks as well, and while the expectancy is they’ll be handled with ease, the Bison won’t be afraid.
Blakeney, who also was named MEAC Coach of the Year last week, told the reporters about the process.
“You always got work to do, but every year of our tenure has been about laying another layer of the foundation,” Blakeney said. “We don’t get to this moment without bumps and bruises we took. … It’s all a progression. When you are building something special, you can’t take skip steps.”
Now Howard will hold its collective breath and hope Georgetown doesn’t come after Blakeney with them firing Patrick Ewing last week.
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