Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

The Hilltop


The Life of Kenneth Blakeney: How One Chance Turned Into A Basketball Championship

Coach Blakeney cuts down the net during his championship celebration. Photo courtesy of David Sierra.

As the 2022-23 college basketball season closed for the Howard men’s basketball team, coach Kenny Blakeney had much to consider. 

The Bison had just taken part in a tournament they hadn’t had the opportunity to compete in for 31 years, a historic feat. They also concluded a landmark season in Howard men’s basketball history, winning the regular season and MEAC tournament championships. 

Amid the success, Blakeney’s mind fixated on their most recent game, a 96-68 loss at the hands of the number-one-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament first round. Improvement is Blakeney’s focus. 

“How can we do things better? What do we need personnel-wise? How can we prepare our guys better?” Blakeney told The Hilltop. “The thought of trying to be better has not stopped in my head since that game ended.”

Blakeney has been improving for his entire life, from being a kid and picking up a basketball for the first time to now being the head basketball coach at the Mecca. Although improvement has been a theme for him, it has sometimes been challenging.

Growing up in the DMV area, basketball surrounded Blakeney at an early age. With future college players like University of Maryland guard Jo Jo Hunter and Georgetown standout Bill Martin just up the street, there was always competition to sharpen his skills against. Family also played a key role in his development as a player.

“My family, like my brother, cousins, my uncle, it was just something we did,” said Blakeney. “My uncle worked at the National Cathedral School, and he would have access to the gym on Sundays, and every Sunday as a youngin, they would kick me out of the house and send me with him. So, at five or six years old, I would watch older guys that loved playing basketball, and just kind of engulfed myself around it then.”

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Blakeney recounted the moment that he came to love basketball. Playing on a team for the first time as an eight-year-old, Blakeney only scored two points the entire season. Those two points, however, came in sudden death. Blakeney remembered closing his eyes, throwing up a shot, and sinking a game-winner as he got the ball in the corner.

“From that moment on, I kind of fell in love with the game,” Blakeney explained. “I didn’t have personal trainers or anything like that. I would go to the basketball court, shoot, and make full-court layups. And then from there, I’d go full-court dribble into jump shots, and I’d try to do it with my left hand, and I guess I started to become a decent player at nine and 10 (years old), and I just progressed from there.”

“That’s kind of like my matriculation a little bit. It was more of a grinding-out situation where I wanted to put the work in and become a good player.”

Fast forward to college, and those skills and drills translated to the collegiate basketball realm. Blakeney graduated from DeMatha Catholic, a historically dominant high-school basketball program in the DMV area, and went on to play at Duke University under Coach Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski. Under the tutelage of Coach K, Blakeney helped deliver the 1992 NCAA Championship to the Blue Devils. His experience playing for the storied program helped him prepare for his journey to where he is now.

“I think the biggest takeaway was: how hard can you work?” said Blakeney. “How do you eliminate mental mistakes? How do you eliminate physical mistakes? Your daily preparation. Coach K’s ability to communicate with his players. Coach K’s ability to read his players and motivate players. I think some of the things we do are a big part of what Coach Tyler Thornton and I had seen at Duke.”

After his playing days were over, Blakeney stayed connected at the hip with basketball, beginning a long assistant coaching career that spanned from 1995 to 2011 before he withdrew from coaching. During his time away from the game, Blakeney thought he lost his fire for coaching. After being out of coaching for so long, another opportunity arose when Blakeney consulted for Under Armour at NBA star Stephen Curry’s “Curry Camp.”

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

At the 2017 “Curry Camp,” Blakeney was asked to step in for a coach who left early due to personal matters.

“They asked me if I could step in and fill in,” Blakeney stated. “And I was like, ‘All right, I don’t want to, but I’ll do it.’ And then, doing it ignited a passion in me that I did not know was still there about coaching. So I give Steph [Curry] a lot of credit for his camp for getting me back into the business.”

Having regained his fire, Blakeney sought out opportunities to return to coaching. At first, he figured he’d look for jobs at the D-3 level. He applied to Vassar. Denied. He applied to Pratt Institute. Not interested. He applied to the Merchant Marine Academy. Nothing. Finally, Jim Engels at Columbia University offered Blakeney a volunteer coaching position. While Blakeney was extremely grateful for the opportunity, the position was unpaid, so he’d have to grind to make it work.

“At the time, I was living in Long Island, so I would have to drive two hours to Harlem to work and then two hours home,” Blakeney recalled. “Then I probably would have to drive anywhere between five to 30 minutes, maybe sometimes an hour to find a parking spot in Harlem.”

“So I was able to really lock into if this was gonna be my passion, there was an investment there that had to be made,” said Blakeney. “Knowing that I was going to be in a car four hours a day and looking for parking anywhere between five minutes to an hour a day. So that was my commitment to try to get back into it.”

Blakeney’s investment paid dividends. After a year at Columbia, he was named the head basketball coach at Howard – his first collegiate head coaching job.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Howard took a chance. With the given chance, Blakeney admits the biggest challenge was establishing a culture. 

“As a young player at Duke, I just fell in line, but I didn’t know how important culture was until I became a head coach.”

The Bison went 4-29 in Blakeney’s first season. However, through the losses, building blocks for success were implanted in the Howard men’s basketball program.

“Players like Phil Jones and Nate Garvey were walk-ons turned starters, and through the many changes, we didn’t compromise our integrity. We knew there was a bigger picture being painted.”

A massive part of that picture for Blakeney was creating men prepared for the world. 

“My job is to prepare young men for the next step in their lives. From young men to fathers so that they can position their families to have success and leave a lasting legacy.”

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Former and current players, coaching staff, and a former NBA all-star affirm that Blakeney is executing his purpose well. 

Garvey, who now owns the Bison Enterprise investment fund, played under coach Blakeney for two seasons. He shares the impact Coach Blakeney had on the players.

“Coach Blakeney is nothing but a great guy. You could tell it was about more than basketball during his first year. He was looking out for us as young men. He pushed me constantly; because of him, I was in the best shape of my life. That is my guy, and I am super glad he came to Howard and is now experiencing success,” Garvey told The Hilltop

Former NBA All-Star and FISLL Project founder Allan Houston visited Blakeney and the men’s basketball team earlier this year as a part of FISLL’s collaboration with Howard. Houston’s comments resemble Garvey’s. 

“When we visited, I was struck by him [Blakeney] talking about how we wanted to equip them for life and whatever they would set out to do. I would call him a social impact coach, and he is probably the first person I used that term for.”

FISLL lead trainer and mentor, Barry Woods, also made the trip. He greatly appreciates Blakeney’s approach to the young men as well. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“His approach is how he can get them fitted for life. His mindset is to give the boys an experience that makes them feel special.”

The Hilltop spoke with junior forward Steve Settle, who averaged 11 points this season for the Bison. Settle confirms what others relayed. 

“Coach Blakeney has had a huge impact on me not only on the court but off the court. He had taken a program that was almost last in the nation and turned them into something special. It takes a lot to be able to do that, and it says a lot about him as a man,” Settle said. “Credit to him and his vision. He has the right guys around him to keep Howard basketball on the incline. I expect nothing but great things going forward.”

What Blakeney has done, what he is doing, is nothing short of incredible. However, he credits this year’s team chemistry and depth for the historic 2022-2023 season. 

“This group did it because of the staff, and there was leadership present from top to bottom,” Blakeney said. “Furthermore, our rich depth can wear teams down. But what was most impactful was that our guys are brothers and friends. Everyone gets along.”

Blakeney had forged a winning culture and team with unmatched chemistry. Consequently, Blakeney earned this year’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, BOXTOROW HBCU Coach of the Year, and the Coach John McLendon Award. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

According to, McLendon was the first coach to win an integrated national championship and three consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships. Blakeney is in the mix with legends. 

However, to Blakeney, the mark of a legend is the legacy one leaves. He shares where he wants the program to be in 20 years. 

“When it is all said and done, I want this program to be better. I want this program to have better infrastructure. I want to look back and ask the question, ‘How did my time as a coach help the university?’”

Howard University gave a man with no head-coaching experience a chance. A chance turned into a championship.

Coach Blakeney played at Duke from 1991-1995. He won two national championships and served as team captain his senior year. Photo via
Coach Blakeney (center) with Shy Odom (left) and Jelani Williams (right) at the MEAC championship post-game press conference. Photo by Badi Cross/The Hilltop.

Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee


You May Also Like