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The Makur Maker experiment at Howard failed, but, that’s no reason to start ignoring HBCU sports again
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Makur MakerPhoto: APIt was never going to work. Not in a million years.From the moment that Makur Maker made history last year by choosing Howard over the top college hoops programs in the country, becoming the highest-rated college basketball prospect to choose an HBCU since ESPN’s recruiting database started in 2007, it was destined to be a failure. The Bison were coming off a 4-29 season, head coach Kenny Blakeney was only in his second year, and the program hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1992.Those who looked at the facts always understood that this was going to be a bad marriage. Howard’s program wasn’t established enough to handle the immediate expectations, while Maker was never a good enough player to be HBCU basketball’s immediate savior. It all came crashing down on Tuesday, as the school announced that the program was canceling the remainder of the season due to COVID-19.“We had several team members test positive in January, and were forced to place the program on hold, cancel several games and finally cancel our season. It was and remains the right thing for us to do,” said Blakeney in a statement. “Ultimately, our number one priority is to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes, both mentally and physically. Canceling the season is in the best interest of the team at this time.”In total, Howard played all of five games as they finished the season 1-4. Over the past two seasons, their record is 5-33. Maker only appeared in two games this season — averaging 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds — due to being shut down “indefinitely” with a groin injury in November. Last month, Maker announced that he was one of the members of the team that had COVID-19, as the virus derailed Howard’s season. On top of Maker’s situation, Howard had nationally-televised games against Notre Dame (FOX) and North Carolina Central (ESPN) canceled, as Nojel Eastern, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Purdue, opted out of the season, while three-star commit Kuluel Mading decided to reopen his recruitment.Suddenly, all of the hype that Maker’s arrival had created was gone.Ironically, it was that hype that destined this experiment for disaster. Too many people, journalists, media members, and networks that didn’t attend an HBCU, had spent any time covering HBCU sports, or had any idea how HBCUs work, were the loudest ones in the room. They led a conversation they knew nothing about. It was like watching a panel of men discuss how pregnancy changes the human body.G/O Media may get a commissionTo them, this was a “game-changer.” ESPN literally said that, while FOX Sports said the decision was “huge,” as if Maker’s commitment to Howard was going to magically change the landscape of HBCU basketball.“I definitely think it’s going to generate a lot of wealth towards our people,” Maker told told ESPN. “It’s the players that make the TV exposure. It’s the players that make these deals.”Due to COVID, none of that happened. But from the little we did see from Howard this season, there’s an argument to be made that if we did, we wouldn’t have liked what we saw on the court from that exposure. Because if Maker really wanted to be a “game-changer,” then North Carolina Central was the school he should have chosen. The Eagles have also had their season ravaged by COVID as they sit at 4-5 on the season. However, since LeVelle Moton came back to take over at his alma mater in 2009, NCCU has made the NCAA Tournament four times since 2014, as the premier basketball program in HBCU hoops.On Friday, The Undefeated and ESPN+ will debut Why Not Us, an 8-episode docu-series on NCCU’s program that’s being executive produced by North Carolina native Chris Paul and HBCU alum and ESPN voice Stephen A. Smith. The irony of this series debuting the same week that Howard and Maker are officially shutting things down can’t be ignored.If the game is ever going to change in HBCU athletics, then it will happen by investing resources and giving exposure to these schools and their athletic programs, giving them all the tools necessary to recruit and retain 3, 4, and 5-star athletes. That way they can build and sustain programs that have proven that they can not only recruit top-tier talent, but also have traditions of excellence, of winning, and of sending kids to the pros. That’s the blueprint that must be followed. Quick fixes will never work. This is why Deion Sanders’ arrival as the head football coach at Jackson State will be a cautionary tale, as the same hype and unachievable expectations that were put on Maker and Howard are starting to take form with Sanders at JSU.Between the elaborate pomp and circumstances and the excessive levels of propaganda that Sanders has already spread, people are ignoring the fact that a man that hasn’t been a head coach or coordinator on any level in college, is about to take over one of the most historically successful programs in HBCU football history. From “Good Morning America” to ESPN, Sanders has already made the media rounds discussing what he intends to accomplish at JSU without anyone bringing up his troubled past when it comes to amateur sports. In 2019, Sanders was an offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian-Cedar Hill when the school was kicked out of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools after a slew of probations and violations. In 2016, the Dallas Morning News did a deep dive into Sanders’ “Prime Prep” school that was an epic failure, as he was once fired, re-hired, fired, and re-hired again at the school. Last December, the Washington Post did a story on multiple student-athletes from Sanders’ school that had their lives upended for attending it.But yet, the cameras and fanfare are, once again, only focused on what could happen instead of what needs to happen. Makur Maker’s marriage to Howard didn’t work, and Sanders’ relationship with Jackson State could also end in an ugly divorce. But, what both situations have proven is that the desire and hunger are there for HBCU athletics to be promoted and pushed to the forefront.Given what has taken place in Washington D.C. and what could be on the horizon in Jackson, Miss., now is not the time to abandon ship. This is the moment when networks and fans should double-down on HBCU athletics. Because while the stock may be low right now, a major cash-out is coming from that investment.  .
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The push for Tom Brady as the greatest ever feels like Great White Hope talk
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Tom Brady, the greatest athlete ever? Come on.Illustration: Getty ImagesOnce Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl ring on Sunday, you knew people would gush all over the 43-year-old Tampa Bay quarterback.It was a natural.After all, it gave Brady more championships than any other franchise in the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots both own six championships, one behind Brady now.Many jumped at the chance to proclaim Brady was the Greatest Of All Time in the NFL — whether he was directly involved in his team actually winning the game or not.Brady has won more than half of his titles on the backs of his team’s defense, including this Super Bowl win over the Kansas City Chiefs.G/O Media may get a commissionFor the Brady fanboys, it didn’t matter. It was all about the ring total.Even if you didn’t fully agree, you could understand why some would make the case for him.Enter jumping the shark, going off the rails.The next leap was that Brady was the greatest team-sport athlete ever.Somehow, Brady had passed Michael Jordan now because Brady has seven rings to Jordan’s six.The notion just didn’t feel silly, it felt like there was more to the narrative, a sinister message, if you will.Plain and simple, it was the propping up of a white athlete over all Black athletes.Yes, it felt like the Great White Hope agenda. Especially to some in Black America.Some people, or so it seems, want the message to be that Brady, a former sixth-round draft pick, was not only the best player in a sport that is 70 percent Black, but the best in all sports.The leap isn’t logical at all.First of all, there’s Jordan, who was 6-0 in NBA Finals and won all six NBA Finals MVPs in the process.Then, there’s Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics.There’s LeBron James, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and many others.Heck, there are other white players who won in team sports more than Brady. The Yankee’s Yogi Berra won 10 World Series in New York.So it can’t just be a ring count that makes you the greatest.And even as great as Brady is, many will concede that he isn’t the best quarterback ever. Maybe, the most accomplished — because of all his records and titles — but hardly the greatest who ever played.Even Hall of Fame former Packers’ QB Brett Favre couldn’t co-sign that. Here’s what he said about Brady on a Boston radio show:“I think Tom Brady, his leadership, his competitiveness, you know, is he the most talented quarterback? I don’t think anyone would say that, but he’s got the It factor that you hear people talk about.”The “It factor” is a long cry from being the greatest team-sport athlete.This current over-the-top narrative feels like when Larry Bird came on the scene in the NBA. Fans and TV announcers talked about Bird’s play as if he’d invented basketball. There was the feeling that there was a narrative that the best player in an 80 percent Black league was white.Obviously, Bird was a great player. It wasn’t as if they were trying to push a bum.We’ve seen that in boxing with the likes of heavyweight Gerry Cooney, a made-up contender who never won jack.But the Bird hype put off some folks so much that Dennis Rodman and Isiah Thomas pushed back and called it out at the time.Rodman said in 1987 that Bird was overrated because he was white. “I don’t think he’s the greatest player,” Rodman said to the media back then. “Why does he get so much publicity? Because he’s white. You never hear about Black players being the greatest.”Both players were made to apologize for their comments. But they were legitimate and honest. Many Black fans sitting at home heard the same coming through their TVs.“The big controversy isn’t about my saying professional athletes are stereotyped,” Thomas told the New York Times. “The controversy is that I said Larry Bird, if he was Black, would be just another good guy. But I think you would all agree that stereotypes do exist.”For sure, Brady is a great player, hardly the greatest. It’s just some say he is in the hope of convincing others that he actually is. .
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Kentucky and Duke haven’t sucked this bad since Watergate… literally
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John Calipari and Kentucky are just 6-12 so far this season.Illustration: Getty ImagesIt’s no secret that the blue bloods of college basketball have been worse this year than an Amy Schumer stand-up special.Traditional powerhouse teams that have relied heavily on young talents like Kentucky and Duke are struggling worse than a communications student in a Calculus III class. The current conditions of the pandemic and the slow vaccine rollout have made everyday life even more difficult for these younger athletes.Plus, they just haven’t been able to play that well.Things haven’t been this bad for both the Wildcats and Blue Devils at the same time since 1974, when Richard Nixon’s presidency was on the brink and the Jackson 5 were making music for Motown.It’s been a very wacky season for everyone this year, but the struggles of these two universities are noteworthy not only because of the rarity of these teams being hot garbage but because of how both of these programs have been structured in recent memory. G/O Media may get a commissionUsually, both of these institutions send their fair share of one and done prospects to the NBA draft following the season, yet neither of these teams seem to have prospects that can currently make a difference on an NBA roster. And with the programs bringing in top four/five-star talent next season, it’ll set up an interesting situation for both John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski.This season will likely be an anomaly for both these programs but when you haven’t looked this terrible since before the Rumble in the Jungle, we can’t let you off the hook.Duke and Kentucky will need to get it together to avoid their first losing seasons since 1994-95 and 1988-89 respectively. .
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The Derrick Rose trade could work for Knicks, but only if Immanuel Quickley is allowed to grow
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Derrick Rose is headed for New York... for the second time.Image: APDerrick Rose is back in his second home. The New York Knicks re-acquired the former MVP in a deal over the weekend with the Detroit Pistons, confirmed on Monday morning. The Knicks sent a 2021 second-round pick and enigmatic 2017 top-10 draft choice, Dennis Smith Jr., to Detroit.It’s a return to NYC that nobody really asked for, but one Knicks fans shouldn’t be mad at unless the team decides to keep Elfrid Payton beyond the March 25 trade deadline. The deal reunites Rose with the head coach he’s had the most success with in Tom Thibodeau, and gives the Knicks a top-six-or-seven rotation piece at the minimal cost of a non-rotation player and a second-round draft choice. Rose is also in the final season of a two-year deal worth $15 million total. Quietly, Rose has played his best basketball post-ACL tear since initially joining the Knicks prior to the 2016-17 season. In the last five years, Rose has averaged 16.6 points and 4.3 assists while shooting over 47 percent from the floor, and that includes a bizarre stint with Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as a nine-game cup of coffee with the Minnesota Timberwolves that same 17-18 season, when he appeared to be at the end of the line before a resurgence the following year. (Should be noted that Rose did average over 14 points, shot nearly 51 percent from the field and 70 percent from three in five playoff games with Minnesota that season, though, in his only taste of playoff basketball without the Chicago Bulls.)In 2018-19, Rose produced the highest offensive rating of his career, 114 per 100 possessions. Last season with the Detroit Pistons, his 109 O-rating was the fourth-highest of his career, and his 25.1 points per-36 minutes were a personal best, one whole point higher than his 2010-11 MVP campaign. In both the last two seasons, Rose finished in the top-seven of Sixth Man of the Year voting, successfully reinventing his basketball career as a scoring lead guard with above league average playmaking abilities. This season, Rose is good for 14.2 points and 4.2 assists in just under 23 minutes per game, though he only shot 43 percent from the field, but give him a break, he was a Detroit Piston. Per-36 minutes, Rose’s averages sit at 22.4 points and 6.6 assists. For reference: This is slightly up from his 20.3 points and 6.4 assists per-36 during his seven-season Bulls tenure. (No, he’s not a better player now, necessarily.) G/O Media may get a commissionThe Knicks indisputably got the best player in the deal, but if Payton remains on the team, and or the acquisition of Rose stunts rookie Immanuel Quickley’s growth, what’s the ultimate benefit? At 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game, while logging the fourth-most minutes on his team (28.5), Payton’s statistically one of the NBA’s least productive starting point guards, and would be better served coming off the bench for a contender instead of standing in Quickley’s way. Quickley is averaging 12.0 points and 2.7 assists while logging only 18.9 minutes per contest. He’s also shooting 36.3 percent from three, and providing more hope for Knick fans than fellow Kentucky-alum Kevin Knox ever has. Quickley’s minutes have been as consistent as his shooting, but if the Knicks are ever going to conclude their seemingly multiple decades long rebuild, developing young talent is the essential method. Quickley doesn’t need 30 minutes per night, but he should hover around at least 20-25 for the bulk of his rookie campaign, unless he Swanton Bombs into a rookie wall. And Austin Rivers has been exactly who Austin Rivers has been throughout his career, which isn’t to say that it’s bad; it’s to say that Quickley’s development should supersede a nightly 8-2-2 in 23 minutes. IQ already has eight games of 16 or more points, including four of 23-plus. Play Rose, play Quickley; play Rose with Quickley, but clear the way by dealing Payton (and perhaps other stuff to acquire draft capital or a player to help your playoff push) elsewhere. .
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Tom Brady was fine, but give the Bucs’ defense their due
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Tampa’s Shaq Barrett was on top of Patrick Mahomes all throughout last night’s lopsided victory.Photo: Getty ImagesThere is zero chance I would have believed you last week if you told me that the Chiefs, with one of the most explosive and creative offenses in the NFL, and with one of the most talented arms the league has ever seen, would be kept out of the end zone in the Super Bowl. But that happened. The Buccaneers defense did something nobody was able to accomplish all season — hold Kansas City without a touchdown.I had my concerns. I asked Patrick Mahomes last week how the team was preparing to face a very talented defensive front, knowing that the loss of left tackle Eric Fischer was a blow to their offensive line; the Chiefs entered Sunday with only one of their five presumptive starters on the line from the preseason. Mahomes knew it would be a battle. He said in part:It’s going to be a great challenge for them, but we’re going to do what we can to get the ball out of my hands, and get it to the playmakers and let them make plays with it.So let’s talk about that. Firstly, the Chiefs offensive line was overwhelmingly mismatched. While Mahomes was only sacked three times, he was under constant siege, oftentimes scrambling nearly twenty yards behind the line of scrimmage to avoid the pressure. While the optics showed that to be the case, the stats are worse. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Patrick Mahomes was pressured more in this game than any quarterback in Super Bowl History (29), passing the record of 25 set by Jim Kelly in SB XXVI. Brady faced his fewest pressures (4) in any Super Bowl of his career. The fact that he took only three sacks on 29 pressures is a Herculean effort. According to NextGenStats, the Chiefs used a 5-man protection on 92.3 percent of their dropbacks. How the Chiefs didn’t gameplan to use additional blockers knowing their offensive line was vastly depleted is beyond me, and it cost them. Head Coach Andy Reid is notorious for making in-game adjustments. This is one that he missed.G/O Media may get a commissionWhile Mahomes was running for his life and trying to make otherworldly plays, his teammates didn’t help. On one of his seemingly endless scrambles last night, while falling to the ground, Mahomes flicked the ball on a rope 30 yards towards the end zone. In my opinion, this would have been the greatest Super Bowl touchdown pass of all time had Darrell Williams caught it instead of letting it hit him square in the facemask.After the game, I asked Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis about covering the Chiefs skill players for so long in coverage as Mahomes was scrambling and trying to make plays happen. Carlton said:I mean it’s something that we knew that they did a lot, and we knew that they had a lot of success with [Mahomes] getting out of the pocket, and creating more time for his receivers to get down field, so that was a big emphasis this whole week – to just plaster to the receivers, stay on top of him even when he’s outside the pocket, and just trust the D-line and trust that they would get him down.Carlton was in coverage for 54 coverage snaps. He was targeted only four times, allowing two receptions for only 14 yards, and the Buccaneers defense held Mahomes to 270 passing yards, two interceptions, and zero touchdowns. There’s no chance the Buccaneers would have dreamed this game would go any better, on both sides of the ball. .
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Who is the oldest player to play in a Super Bowl? (It’s not Tom Brady juuuust yet)
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Old man yells at crowd.Illustration: Getty ImagesTom Brady is old.But Matt Stover is the oldest player to ever play in a Super Bowl … for now. Like, today. And tomorrow and Saturday. But that will all change on Sunday when Brady, at 43 years old, takes his first snap for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.Halfway through the 2009 season, Stover signed with the Indianapolis Colts to fill in for an injured Adam Vinatieri. The 42-year-old veteran kicker became the oldest player to ever play in the big game when he laced up his boots in Super Bowl XLIV. In the game, he kicked a field goal in the first quarter and tacked on two extra points. But Stover’s leg wasn’t enough for the Colts, who lost to the New Orleans Saints 31-17.Brady is currently the oldest non-kicker to play in a Super Bowl. And after he breaks this SB record on Sunday, who knows, he might break it again next year… and the year after that… and maybe then he’ll retire? Or maybe not. G/O Media may get a commissionDuring Super Bowl media availability an ESPN reporter asked “would you consider playing beyond 45, especially with the way you’re playing right now?”“Yeah, definitely,” TB12 said. “I would definitely consider that. You know, it’s a physical sport, and just the perspective I have on that is you never kinda know when that moment is. It’s a contact sport, and there’s a lot of training that goes into it, and again — it has to be a 100% commitment from myself to keep doing it.” .
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