Howard has arguably had one of the best recruiting periods of any mid-major coach in the country this off-season. That haul got a little bit richer with the addition of Nojel Eastern.
Bison Coach Kenney Blakeney had a tall task in re-tooling a roster that went 4-29 the previous season but to say that he’s gotten off to a flying start doing so would be a massive understatement. Start with an initial 9-man recruiting class that brought, well, a little bit of everything back to a sorely depleted bison roster.
Add a bonafide 5-star lottery level talent in Makur Maker, arguably the most highly regarded recruit in the history of the Bison program, and you’d think that mission to rebuild that roster would be complete for the most part, right?
Nah…Not quite yet.
The Bison coaching staff went out to Big Ten country and scooped up one of the most effective defensive guards in all of college basketball in Purdue transfer Nojel Eastern. Despite his offensive struggles for the Boilermakers this past season, he was going to be part of an extremely good core of guards and forwards for Coach Matt Painter’s roster.
Interestingly, Howard wasn’t the first choice for Eastern after committing to the idea of transferring to another program; Fellow Big Ten rival Michigan had that honor. How coach Blakeney and his staff got into the mix for Eastern’s recruitment still isn’t clear, but the end result of that involvement is another incredible Bison recruiting win. Maker was one of the first Bison to welcome him into the fold:
In one incredible off-season, HU hoops not only got a new competitive lease on life but they’ve arguably become one of the more talented programs (on paper) in the MEAC, and among lower mid-majors in general. Eastern was a handful as an on-ball defender, and as a big guard that could play effectively with his back to the basket on the block.
In a league where guards are skilled but small of stature, Eastern’s strength, lock-down defense, and old-school tenacity could be a game-changer for the Bison in their race to catch the upper echelon of the MEAC. Of course, we’ve yet to see how these recruiting wins translate to on-court wins and losses, but the excitement around the Bison program hasn’t been this high since the days of NBA Pro and Cheverly Maryland native Larry Spriggs residing on campus and dropping buckets on CIAA foes in Burr Gymnasium during the late 1970s.
Eastern still has plenty of deficiencies to conquer on the offensive end of the court, though. The development of a consistent and effective jump shot would do wonders for his offensive versatility, as well as the flexibility of lineups that Coach Blakeney and his staff are able to implement.
The consensus of folks that follow the fortunes of the MEAC still see Levelle Moten’s North Carolina Central Eagles as the class of the league, with Coach Robert Jones’ Spartans of Norfolk State and Kevin Broadus’ Morgan State Bears nipping at their heels.
That being said, the dark horse to upset that pecking order just might reside in Washington D.C. If Maker and Eastern see the floor together, along with the rest of the talent accumulated this recruiting cycle, the new-look Bison will be a serious threat in the now condensed confines of MEAC conference basketball.
One thing is for sure; Coach Blakeney and his staff are doing everything in their power to make sure that the nightmare of a 4-29 season is wiped from the collective memory banks of Howard’s basketball fanbase. MEAC Rookie of the Year Wayne Bristol Jr. blending his perimeter skills in with the influx of talent coming to the squad will also be a major factor in how well this new squad congeals and plays good, conceptual basketball.
It’s definitely going to be exciting to see how these recruiting wins translate to program success for this upcoming season and beyond. The future is definitely bright in Northwest D.C. Nojel Eastern, Makur Maker, and a bevy of new blood aims to make that future stick on a more permanent basis.