Nearly 300 people, ranging from students, alums or those just interested in the program, registered for the second annual Howard men’s basketball “State of the Program” Zoom meeting to hear updates on the team ahead of their 2023-24 season. This is a significant increase compared to last year’s 140 registrants.
The Sept. 19 virtual program kicked off with Daniel Marks, the chief program strategist for the team, listing all of the historic feats they were able to accomplish last year.
“It’s a really exciting time for Howard University Men’s Basketball,” Marks said. “We’re coming off the most historic season in program history: the first NCAA Tournament and MEAC Championship berth since 1992, the first outright regular season championship since 1987 and the first back-to-back winning seasons since 1986-87 and 1987-88. We have four players who received all-MEAC recognition last year, as well as Coach Blakeney winning multiple National Coach of the Year awards including the MEAC Coach of the Year,”
Marks then explained how supporters of the program can donate to players for things like great performances through the website myNILpay.com. With new regulations on how college athletes can benefit from their image and likeness, it’s a turning point to see the players reaping financial rewards.
Following Marks’ opening remarks, the players and coaching staff were introduced. Harmony Bailey, a sophomore journalism major at Howard, moderated the Zoom.
Kenneth Blakeney, coach of the Howard Men’s Basketball team, spoke on his outlook of last season and what he cherishes most from it.
“The past year has been a whirlwind of incredible moments that have left a profound impact on our program and everyone associated with Howard University,” Blakeney said. “What stands out most to me is the tremendous growth we’ve witnessed, not just on the basketball court, but in every facet of our community. It’s incredible to see the entire Howard family, including our players, managers, students, and alumni fans, come together and ignite a sense of unity and purpose.”
Players from the team were then asked a series of questions regarding the program. This includes Seth Towns, a graduate student who plays forward for the team. Towns’ journey through his college career has been filled with ups and downs, from being the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2018 at Harvard to graduating in 2020 during the pandemic.
With Towns’ participation in numerous demonstrations for racial justice – including advocating in the case of George Floyd – he spoke about how Howard is the perfect place for him to continue his fight for justice.
“I wanted to come to Mecca. There were no other options, for me, individually. You know, after being arrested [during] the George Floyd protests and just growing up the way I did, I developed a passion for social justice,” Towns said. “And, I wanted to be at a place where I could not only play basketball and pursue that passion but also learn as much as I could about the state and condition of being Black in America. So I just ultimately felt like there was no better place to do it.”
The team also highlighted the work they did last season, dealing with Black maternal health in their Social Justice Pro project. One of the scholarship recipients, Anaya Rivera, a sophomore majoring in sociology, spoke on the bond that she has been able to create with the basketball team.
“So this program really is like a family. I told the team before everything took place that when I found out I was pregnant, a lot of people gave up on me,” Rivera said. “They didn’t think I could do what I wanted to do, so I had to push myself more. So it was literally a few days before I gave birth, I was at this basketball game, and they all surprised me with a scholarship from the NBA. And, I couldn’t be more grateful because I don’t know how I could’ve done it without them.”
The Zoom concluded with attendees getting the chance to ask questions about how Howard alumni can get involved, the roster adjustments with numerous new additions and how fans can get a hold of a season ticket pass.
Some upcoming events to be on the lookout for from the team include Bison Madness, which will take place at Burr Gymnasium on Oct. 16 at 7:00 p.m., and the alumni scrimmage on Oct. 21, which will take place before the homecoming game.
Copy edited by Whitney Meritus