The city of Houston has been buzzing with action for the NCAA Final Four basketball championship. Thousands of fans filled the arena at Texas Southern University Sunday (April 2) to watch young Black men fulfill their passion and compete on the national stage by way of major broadcast syndication.
Perfectly positioned between the semifinals and the championship game, the top 24 basketball players from historically Black colleges and university teams were on full display during the second annual HBCU All-Star Game.
Team Dick Barnett, comprised of players who competed in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), and independent ranks representing Tennessee State, Hampton, and North Carolina A&T State Universities took home the trophy in a 99-113 victory over Team Willis Reed, comprised of players who competed in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).
Hosted on the campus of an HBCU for the first time, the event not only displayed top-notch athleticism, but also philanthropy as HBCU All-Stars, LLC presented $100,000 in scholarships to the participating athletic conferences. Black culture was also spotlighted with majorette dancers in the stands as Prairie View A&M University’s “Marching Storm” band played modern-day Negro spirituals, like Lil Uzi’s “I Just Wanna Rock” and “Superhero” by Metro Boomin. Black Greek letter organizations strolled on the court during the halftime show. In other words, Black excellence shined brightly.
Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner heralded H-Town as “a city of champions from all arenas.” Mayor Turner went on to add, “Until you start including HBCUs at the table in a very inclusive fashion, you have diversity, but you don’t have inclusivity. So this [event] just makes it real.”
Dr. Kevin Granger, vice president of intercollegiate athletics at TSU, echoed these sentiments as he reflected on how his HBCU experience led to a dream realized. “I was also [fortunate] enough to play in a Black college All-Star game when I came out as a senior. I know what this type of movement, this type of recognition can do for you all. It did a lot for me. I was able to play professional basketball,” he said.
Stories like this are what inspired Travis L. Williams to create HBCU All-Stars, LLC in 2019 with the mission to advocate, educate, expose, mentor, and invest in deserving student-athletes. The visionary and former Tennessee State University coach said, “You’re going to see high-level talent, competition, guys that are really going at it. Not just [players] at HBCUs, but national players from across the board that don’t usually get national publicity.”
Williams went on, “They understand the magnitude of this moment when all eyes are on them. The Final Four has been around for 40-plus years, and now we get an opportunity to shine on the grandest stage. They get a chance to not only represent themselves and their families, but our proud and tradition-rich HBCUs.”
Joirdon Karl Nicholas, a senior and 6’9” TSU forward, talked about his excitement to build bonds with players from conferences he usually wouldn’t play against and create memories by participating in the game. “It’s big to me because I get one more time to play in the Texas Southern University gym — my home court, just showing the next level of what HBCUs got,” he stated.
Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was honored at the HBCU All-Star Game told REVOLT, “HBCUs are like a historical landmark. It’s where we only could go for a while. But now we’re getting better and better.” At HBCUs, the competition doesn’t just stop on the court. Rev. Jackson also gave a nod to his alma mater, North Carolina A&T, which he described as “the premiere Black college or university in America.” And to top it off, he got an assist from Jeremy Wright, marketing, external affairs and operations at N.C. A&T, who said, “Our job as administrators and educators is to service excellence in every aspect of life.”
HBCUs have historically been a place of refuge for Black students, a space where their authenticity, soul, style, rhythm, and blues are not only accepted but understood and celebrated. For HBCU All-Stars COO April Taylor, this game represents “what it means to go to an HBCU, to go to an HBCU game, to be around people of color and have a good time.”
The kind of racial reckoning that Taylor described was validated at the NCAA women’s basketball championship game in Dallas, Texas. First, when South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley called out mainstream media for mislabeling her players with derogatory terms, and then when Louisiana State forward Angel Reese defended her competitive passion on the court after being called “classless” for a gesture she made that the Black community would simply dismiss as “trash talking.” In fact, it was the same gesture white Iowa forward Caitlin Clark used earlier in the tournament. The motion was popularized by white WWE star John Cena signaling, “You can’t see me.”
North Carolina A&T’s Wright offered this observation: “I feel that society handles our culture at their convenience either because they are fearful of the impact or we can really take over the sporting platform.” He continued, “HBCUs will always be important because of the many legacies and ancestors that created a way for us to get the proper education to sustain and be successful in this society. HBCUs show the meaning of ‘It takes a village.’ I think at this point, [HBCU enrollment] will only grow because this next generation of young African Americans want to be around those who they can easily relate to and not be discouraged by what actions they may portray.”
The past weekend has shown that this toddler of an event is gaining its legs, and the HBCU All-Star Game is only getting bigger and better. Interim head men’s basketball coach at Lincoln University Jason Armstrong said, “I was at the game last year in New Orleans, and the turnout was decent but nothing compared to this year. You can tell it’s growing.”
The third annual HBCU All-Star Game is set to take place in Phoenix, Arizona in 2024.