How NBA’s first HBCU showcase could change the way players enter the league

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Najee Garvin, right, plays against Jeremy Combs during a basketball game at an HBCU Showcase at the NBA summer league Monday, July 11, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The NBA held its first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) showcase last Monday during this year’s Summer League in Las Vegas. The showcase welcomed 28 players from such schools in front of scouts with the hopes of making it to the pros.

The inaugural showcase comes three weeks after the NBA Draft where no players from an HBCU were drafted. The Summer League event not only addressed the issue of representation, but it also showed athletes from these schools another way to the pro stage. 

“It’s just a crazy experience just to get a chance to showcase my talent in front of these NBA scouts and international scouts at the pro level,” said LeMoyne-Owen College basketball player Jaquan Lawrence. “The showcase is important to me because I know what’s to come after.”

Associate vice president of business operations Morgan Cato viewed the showcase as a chance to show HBCU athletes interested in playing professionally that there is a path. 

As of Feb. 2022, Robert Covington — who attended Tennessee State — of the Los Angeles Clippers was the only active player from a historically black college or university.

“I think that it will encourage them more to stay the course,” said Cato. “Hopes are with this sort of attraction and players knowing that now there’s more visibility to them holistically, that they can continue preparing, training, getting in contact, receiving the development and getting the rest that they need to continue preparing for the big stage with the NBA.”  

Having showcases like this allows the conversation of having more representation in professional sports to be had. It also opens a discussion on ways that these institutions can properly develop their athletes to be the best of the best.

“All HBCUs are not created equal,” said Cato. “Some have strong investments in their athletic program, some are trying to figure it out.”

Aside from the showcase, the Association has made strides to bring more recognition to the schools. From having their first HBCU Classic during All-Star Week back in February to asking the teams’ coaches and staff to help build relations with their athletic departments. 

These efforts not only meant to help the athletes, but aid the schools as well.

The league is also getting some help in its efforts thanks to a new influx of former players into coaching positions in these programs. Former Nets guard and current Fisk University head coach Kenny Anderson is one of three head coaches at an HBCU that are helping their athletes get to the NBA stage.

Head coaches Mo Williams, Bonzi Wells, and Reggie Theus were all in attendance at last Monday’s showcase, as well.

“If we don’t do this, who will?” Wells told NBA.com. “This is a blessing for us to be coaches. It’s tough for former NBA players to get jobs and be head coaches. This is a blessing for us to have the platform that we have.”

Having this amount of a pro presence in HBCU basketball could be the catalyst for more players to coach at these schools. It also helps the league’s efforts much further in bringing these talents to the forefront as a competitor to power 5 schools.

With the first showcase now behind them, it’s clear that the league is making a conscious effort in creating a level of access to HBCU athletes. Creating this level of access gives these athletes a chance at playing professionally without having to leave their school.

“HBCUs are important because it’s just our culture,” said Lawrence. “You get to interact with people and other HBCU grads that went on into their careers and want to pour back into us. I chose an HBCU because I heard all about how they can change your life.”

For more NBA coverage like this feature on HBCU prospects, visit AMNY.com