HBCU players at NBA summer league looking for opportunities

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Najee Garvin has played at three different colleges, the last being an HBCU. Being on an NBA court and wearing the NBA logo sometimes felt unrealistic.

He faced adversity after being arrested for assault which was eventually dropped. He went nearly two full years without playing a game. Garvin even became a cook at Chili’s to pay the bills.

On Monday, he wore that NBA logo after all.

Garvin was one of 28 players invited to HBCU’s inaugural NBA Summer League showcase in Las Vegas. With a few dozen scouts in the stands and four former NBA players — all now at historically black colleges and universities — doing the workout, Garvin drilled and played in scrums, earning an audition like no other in his career.

“A job,” Garvin said, when asked what would make the day a success for him. “I’m just authentic. A work. Nowadays, it is difficult to find a job. You need to be placed in the right place, with the right people, who know the right things.

The NBA hopes it will bring together this combination of good place, good people and good things – with this showcase, the latest way the league hopes to provide opportunities for HBCU players.

There is only one player from an HBCU school currently in the NBA and that is Robert Covington of the Los Angeles Clippers. No HBCU player has been drafted in a decade. Of the 30 team rosters in Las Vegas, only five featured a former HBCU.

“I’m a visionary,” said Mo Williams, the former NBA guard who now coaches at Jackson State. “We have a lot of talent at the HBCU level who don’t get these invites to the NBA Combine, Portsmouth, G League Combine now, things like that. We think these kids are talented enough to be professional athletes. It’s a beginning.

HBCU football players have not been forgotten. Some got a chance to show off their skills in early February when the NFL hosted its first HBCU combine at Senior Bowl practices.

The NBA has made strides for basketball players in recent years to address areas where it feels changes are needed. There are a record 15 black coaches in the NBA right now, eight of whom have been hired in the past year.

The 2021 NBA All-Star Game generated at least $3 million for HBCUs through donations to scholarship funds — and the visibility these schools got during the game was worth even more. The league has launched a paid scholarship program that places HBCU students in jobs at the league office and on NBA and WNBA teams. And last season, All-Star Weekend included a game between Howard and Morgan State.

And now the focus turns to individual players.

“The showcase is a chance for us to continue creating opportunities for the best talent in the world,” said Morgan Cato, NBA vice president who is set to become assistant general manager for the Phoenix Suns. “There is a perception that HBCU programs are not necessarily able to produce talent. But all of our league office investments are about creating opportunities, creating access and giving great players the opportunity to be seen by teams.

Many NBA players over the past two years have expressed the need to help HBCU programs and improve the college experience for these players.

But there’s also a clear belief that if a player is good enough to play in the NBA – whether that player is in a Power 5 school, or overseas, or in high school – someone in the league the will find.

“One thing that’s undeniable is that it’s the best league in the world,” said Portland guard Damian Lillard, who played college ball at Weber State and was still a lottery pick. “We want HBCUs to get more recognition. We want them to have better funding, better facilities and better resources. It could be much better. I think that’s what has to happen.

The showcase lasted a few hours and was basically NBA practice: Williams, Bethune-Cookman coach Reggie Theus, Fisk coach Kenny Anderson and LeMoyne-Owen coach Bonzi Wells split the groups into four teams, and after a few drills, the players went through scrums. .

It’s still a long way from one of the 28 to make the NBA. But Monday could have been a step in the right direction to bring another HBCU player into the league.

“Why didn’t it happen?” Let’s call a spade a spade: they’re not watching,” Anderson said. “Children are not watched.”

Wells said he has yet to see a professional scout at any of his team’s home games. But he continues, insisting he must keep trying to do his part to raise the profile of HBCU college and professional, the same way Deion Sanders did with football at Jackson State.

“If we don’t do it, who will? says Wells. “Who will? It’s a blessing for us to be coaches. It’s hard for ex-NBA players to get jobs and be head coaches. It’s a blessing for us to have the platform that we have.

There could be a G League opportunity for some of these players; it was the path Covington took to get to the NBA after being drafted. Playing internationally is another option. Former Prairie View A&M player Jawaun Daniels said he would listen even if the Harlem Globetrotters called.

“My mind is always open to anything,” Daniels said.

The 28 players are all dreamers. And maybe Monday brought them closer to where they ultimately want to be.

“Today is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Garvin, who played at Charlotte, Nicholls State and Hampton. “No matter where, no matter the level, it’s all about finding a job. We’ve all been overlooked, all at the bottom of the post, and today reminds us that we can still find our way to the top.

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