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Fiction predicts reality in novel about star athlete attending Howard

‘What Follows’ was meant to inspire elite Black athletes to envision the possibilities of HBCUs

Antonio Michell knows what it’s like to play basketball at a historically Black college and university (HBCU). He was a three-year starter while playing for the Howard Bison from 1996 to 2000. Last year, he self-published What Follows, a book about a top-flight player choosing to play at Howard University. Now fiction has become reality with the recent news that Makur Maker, a 6-foot-11 five-star recruit, has committed to playing at Howard next season.

Self-published through IngramSpark, the book is available at Whatfollowsbook.com and through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Michell, 42, who graduated from Howard in 2000 with a degree in business, spoke with The Undefeated about why and how he wrote the book.

What was your reason for writing this novel?

I loved my experience playing basketball at Howard University. You can’t describe the magic that Black institutions offer, but whatever it is, it’s powerful. The excellence, the history, the camaraderie, the lifelong friendships. It hurt me to see our universities struggling financially while white institutions were thriving from Black talent.

I was tired of people always asking, ‘What if?‘ What if talented Black players banded together to play at Black colleges and universities? Prior to integration, we were a force within our communities. Now we tend to reminisce about those days and shake our heads about what was lost, rather than actively try to bring that unity back.

I decided to write a fictional response to the question ‘What if?‘ My intent in writing this book was to provide a compelling narrative that could inspire our young elite Black athletes to envision the possibilities of bringing their talent to HBCUs, and with that, resources that will strengthen our universities and communities.

Antonio Michell during his playing days with the Howard Bison.

What is your book about?

It tells the story of Chance Knight, the No. 1-rated high school player in the nation. Chance is headed to a powerhouse institution to play in the arena he has dreamed of since first picking up a basketball. But before that dream can come to fruition, fate intervenes. A life-altering event guides his decision to instead attend a historically Black university. His choice is deeply personal, but at the same time, he understands that he is blazing a trail. He feels the pressure.

The painful reality for Chance is that the university he has selected has not made it to a conference championship in decades. He knows the sports world will be watching and doubting that even someone with his skills could do the improbable and lead his fledgling team to the NCAA playoffs. When, for reasons of their own, a few other elite players decide to join him from his high school and AAU teams, Chance does not look back.

My book offers a raw look at what it can be like to navigate the streets in Black skin and how courage, commitment and love for one another can lead to joy and spark a movement. The bottom line is what is conveyed repeatedly in the book: HBCUs matter.

What do you think about the timing of the book?

My book came out last year. In it, Chance ends up choosing Howard because his father was killed in a police incident similar to the George Floyd incident. So just imagine, it was just eerie that all this was tying into now.

I think the timing has never been better, and you’re starting to see that on social media. You have Mikey Williams, who’s the top-rated, projected No. 1 player in the nation in the Class of 2023. He’s already come out and mentioned going to an HBCU wouldn’t be so bad.

And then you have folks like LeBron James’ son Bronny. He’s in high school right now, and you know how socially conscious LeBron James is, so just imagine if his son decided to take that path. Carmelo Anthony’s son is playing right now as well.

What do you think about Maker deciding to attend Howard?

My reaction to Makur signing is ‘Wow!’ I can’t believe a fictional book I wrote in 2019 about elite five-star athletes changing the narrative by going to an HBCU during a time of social injustice involving police killings of unarmed Black men has now become a reality less than a year later. What’s so fascinating is that Makur chose the same HBCU [Howard University] that the players chose in my book. Talk about fate! A former D-I HBCU basketball player at Howard writes a novel about elite five-star Black athletes changing the narrative by going to Howard instead of a PWI [predominantly white institution], and then Makur Maker in real life becomes the first to ever go to an HBCU. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

How long did it take you to write the book?

I came up with the idea for it probably five years ago, and I actually did a synopsis. I sent the synopsis to my boys, my boys that went to Howard with me, and they were like, ‘Man, this thing has legs.’ I was telling them, I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to turn this into a movie. I want it to be a Netflix series, but I need to get something out there first to protect the idea, show the story itself.’ So that’s why I went the book route first and wanted to come out with the book.

Your fictional account reads like reality. How did you figure that out?

It was my HBCU experience, that’s what tied into everything. I played AAU ball. I played high school basketball, I was at St. John’s Prospect Hall when they had coach Stu Vetter, he was my coach. I was able to translate my HBCU experiences into this book because I lived it. I was an HBCU athlete at an HBCU, and just know all about the experience, the whole HBCU experience, so it was just perfect.

Your dialogue made the book an easy read. Have you written anything else before?

I had no previous experience as far as writing a book or anything, but I think everything flowed so well just because of the fact that I lived through it. Of course, I had my editors go through and fine-tune everything, absolutely. But I think just the fact that I lived through the experience is what really helped it flow.

John X. Miller is the senior HBCU editor for Andscape. He's a father, jazz aficionado and die-hard UNC basketball fan.