Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 08/06/20
Howard basketball’s dream offseason continues.
Purdue transfer Nojel Eastern announced his commitment to Kenny Blakeney and the Bison on Thursday, extending what has been a memorable summer for the program.
Howard will likely enter the fall as one of five programs nationally with a lineup that includes a five-star recruit (Makur Maker) and high-major transfer. The Bison recorded just four wins a season ago.
Eastern, a two-time all-Big Ten defender, will reportedly apply for a waiver in hopes of joining Maker this season. Maker, of course, became the highest-rated recruit in both conference and program history last month. The 6-11 center is 18th nationally in 24/7Sports‘ Class of 2020 rankings.
With two high-major talents on campus, the Bison are poised for a big turnaround. Don’t expect it to happen overnight, though. Howard was 350th in KenPom last season, ranking worse than 300th in several defensive categories. It also loses its top scorer in Charles Williams, who averaged 18.5 points a game. Plenty of questions still linger for a team that Bart Torvik slots at No. 316 in his preseason ’20-21 projections.
One thing is for sure: Howard can’t possibly be as bad as it was last season. Pegging this team as a conference contender just months after a disastrous season might still be too much to ask out of just two players. It’s worth noting that Maker has draft-lottery talent but is still raw and could have consistency issues. Eastern, meanwhile, is labeled as an offensive liability after scoring 5.1 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting through three years in the Big Ten.
The MEAC is consistently one of the weakest basketball conferences, but this is still an uphill climb. Howard hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1992, and a massive improvement won’t be easy. Levelle Moton and North Carolina Central were well on their way to a fourth consecutive March Madness bid after a 13-3 league record. The conference also features a Norfolk State squad that finished second in the MEAC and returns most of the league’s top defense. Suggesting Howard will suddenly rise from worst to first would be a significant downplay of the rest of the conference’s talent.
Even still, people are now talking about Howard basketball. For smaller programs, attention can sometimes be the most important metric towards future success.
Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.
Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.