North Carolina Central finally gets its shine as basketball’s best HBCU program with ESPN+ docuseries

Illustration for article titled North Carolina Central finally gets its shine as basketball’s best HBCU program with ESPN+ docuseries
Screenshot: ESPN

The ones in the “in-crowd” have always known, but in a few weeks, the rest of the world will be introduced to the real.

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On February 12, The Undefeated and ESPN+ will debut “Why Not Us,” an 8-episode docuseries on North Carolina Central Men’s Basketball team, which has arguably been the best HBCU hoops program over the last decade. North Carolina native Chris Paul and HBCU alum and ESPN voice Stephen A. Smith are both executive producers of the project that will shed some light on HBCU basketball during Black History Month.

“I don’t care how a locker room may look, how a jumbotron may look, how a weight room may look. One thing that never changes, is that it still takes what it takes to get there. You gotta be damn good and you gotta outwork people,” said Eagles head coach LeVelle Moton in a promo clip for the series.

“It’s real. We live it. They’re killing us in broad daylight in front of the world,” Moton tells his team about police brutality. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for you when you get tired.”

Since Moton took over the program at his alma mater in 2009, NCCU has made the NCAA Tournament four times since 2014. They have been the premier basketball program in HBCU hoops, which is why it was so jarring when Makur Maker made history last year when he committed to Howard University, becoming the highest-ranked college basketball prospect to choose an HBCU since ESPN’s recruiting database started in 2007. Howard was coming off a season in which it went 4-29, as it hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1992.

Ironically, NCCU and Howard were supposed to meet this season, but their February 1, matchup that was going to air on ESPN2 was canceled due to COVID-19. Labeling Howard’s season as an unlucky one would be an understatement, given all it’s experienced over the last few months. The team has only played five games this season due to COVID-related postponements and cancellations, as it sits at 1-4, giving it a 5-33 record over the past two seasons. Its home matchup against Notre Dame that was going to air on FOX for Martin Luther King Jr. day was also canceled. The Bison were then hit with defections, as Nojel Eastern, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Purdue, opted out of the season and is preparing to turn pro. And Howard lost out on three-star commit Kuluel Mading who decided to reopen his recruitment. Outside of Maker, Mading was the second highest-ranked player to commit to Howard.

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And speaking of Maker, he’s 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, I explained why Maker’s experiment at Howard was never going to work, given the circumstances and his talent level. He was never going to be good enough to be an HBCU basketball Messiah, as NCCU would have been a better destination.

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By investing resources and giving exposure to HBCUs and their athletic programs, it will allow them to have all the necessary tools to recruit and retain 3, 4, and 5-star athletes. That’s what’s happening at NCCU right now, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Saginaw Native. Morehouse Man. Syracuse (Newhouse) Alum. 2019 & 2020 NABJ Award Winner. 2016 PABJ Journalist of the Year. I only eat my wings lemon-peppered. And I like brown liquor & brown women.