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Howard and Morgan State set to square off in inaugural NBA HBCU Classic

The NBA’s elite will be sharing the spotlight with HBCUs during All-Star Weekend in Cleveland

This year’s NBA’s All-Star stage won’t just feature LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The inaugural NBA HBCU Classic, presented by AT&T, will also be a part of NBA All-Star Weekend, featuring traditional rivals Howard University and Morgan State University in a matchup that will provide national exposure and funding for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” said Morgan State senior guard Sherwyn Devonish-Prince Jr. “But I know that when I’m there, I’m definitely going to feel the emotions.”

The game will be broadcast Saturday at 2 p.m. ET on TNT and ESPN2 from the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University. Before the start of the game, actress/singer Keke Palmer will perform the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” accompanied by Howard’s Showtime Marching Band.

“It’s been an evolution of how we got to this game,” said NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum. “The evolution really started 35 years ago when our former commissioner David Stern began a relationship with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. With the rivalry between Howard and Morgan State, schools in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, respectively, we thought that was a great rivalry to take advantage of [for the inaugural event], and it wouldn’t require too much maneuvering from the schools’ regular schedule. We hope to showcase and feature other HBCU schools down the road, but this seemed to be a pretty good one to start with.”

Led by the former president of the National Basketball Players Association, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul, there was a push to get HBCUs connected to All-Star Weekend last season. The 2021 game took place in Atlanta, home to the nation’s largest consortium of private HBCUs — Morehouse College, the Morehouse School of Medicine, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University — collectively known as the Atlanta University Center, according to the consortium’s website.

“It was part of the reason why we’re here in Atlanta,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told CNN at the time. “This was an opportunity to focus on the HBCUs.”

Last year’s game featured Team LeBron, representing the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and Team Durant, playing for the United Negro College Fund. The weekend also featured several other HBCU tie-ins, including jersey patches and marching band performances. Although the coronavirus pandemic affected many events, the weekend raised $3 million for HBCUs.

“I’m excited about this year’s HBCU Classic and the continued focus to highlight HBCUs,” Paul, a 12-time All-Star, told the Associated Press. “It’s a great stage for them [the HBCUs]. It’s the education of it. A lot of people don’t understand the importance of HBCUs and why they were formed. To continue to elevate them and give them a stage and a platform is very important.”

“With this year’s All-Star Game, we started thinking about what would be that natural next step, and for us, that was featuring a game between two HBCUs during All-Star Weekend. It’s not just about the game but also about showcasing HBCU students, not only the players on the team but other students and alumni as well throughout the weekend,” said Tatum.

For Devonish-Prince, being a part of All-Star Weekend will be the largest basketball stage he has ever played on.

“I’ve been an NBA fan my entire life. Huge All-Star fan, so I’m grateful for the opportunity, grateful that the NBA is even recognizing HBCUs,” Devonish-Prince said. “More than anything, just having this opportunity is a blessing. Being one of the first people to kind of set the bar for HBCUs at an event like this is like a dream come true. There are NBA players who never get to participate in All-Star Weekend and yet, here we are.”

Devonish-Prince was a four-year varsity point guard at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. He got his first taste of the national spotlight as a teenager on Team Takeover, a Washington-area AAU team that has produced several NBA draft picks, including Victor Oladipo, Erick Green and Jerami Grant.

“The level of competition in each tournament [with Team Takeover] was eye-opening for me,” Devonish-Prince said. “We were the No. 1 team in the country at some point. At that age, I got to see where I was going to end up. Playing on that circuit showed me the level that I needed to take my game to [play at the college level] and maybe beyond.”

After graduating from Wise in 2018, Devonish-Prince joined the Bears and started in all 30 games while averaging 10.7 points his freshman season. He was named the MEAC Rookie of the Week four times and shot 86.6% from the free throw line. He is averaging 6.7 points this season and is second on the team in steals (25).

Morgan State guard Sherwyn Devonish-Prince against George Mason on Nov. 14, 2021.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

“He’s the person who sets it up on the court,” said teammate Lagio Grantsaan, a senior forward from Utrecht, Netherlands. “He gives the control on the court. If something feels like it’s getting discombobulated, he is the one that organizes it back up. He likes to talk and knows he is good at giving directions. I know he will continue that flow for us in the classic.”

Like Devonish-Prince, Howard senior forward Sam Green is pumped about playing on the NBA All-Star stage.

“I think this opportunity right here will give HBCUs the chance to be put on a big platform, the same way other non-HBCUs consistently get,” said Green, a graduate student from Bowie, Maryland, who is studying for his master’s degree in sociology. Green said he chose Howard because he wanted to be closer to home while also experiencing the HBCU culture as a student. “I think HBCUs getting this big recognition right here is overdue. I’m excited to be a part of a team that gets the opportunity. I’m excited that Morgan gets the chance. I’m excited that Howard gets the chance. We just hope that we go out there and put on the show to show the world that HBCUs are just as good, if not better than all these other teams that get all this attention.”

Following the game, Howard and Morgan State each will be presented with honorary plaques in recognition of their participation in the first-ever HBCU Classic. The plaques feature the logo and date of the game, each customized with the university’s icons.

Besides the HBCU Classic, the NBA is establishing a paid fellowship program for HBCU students looking for their first jobs in the sports industry, an effort that Tatum said is aimed at “narrowing the racial inequality gap.” The league hopes that other sports organizations and nonsports corporations will follow suit and establish similar programs.

“I think it’s so important for us to do this because the fact of the matter is, our HBCUs really are the institutions that produce 20% of all Black college graduates. What we want to do here is to elevate and promote HBCUs and to provide resources and encourage others to provide the resources needed so that HBCUs can continue their legacy of building Black excellence and advancing that next generation of leaders in our country, which is so needed,” Tatum said.

Cayla Sweazie is a member of the Andscape social team and is probably making a TikTok right now. She is a former HBCU athlete (Go Bears) who now covers HBCU sports, lifestyle and culture.