Howard (1-4) has had more than twice as many games canceled or postponed (11) as it has played, and it could experience more disruptions as the coronavirus continues to threaten the schedule.
As the Bison get ready to resume their season, here’s a look at their past seven months:
July 3, 2020: The commitment that changed everything
Maker, who was No. 16 in the ESPN 100 recruiting rankings for the Class of 2020, chooses the Bison despite holding scholarship offers from powerhouse programs such as Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA.
“I was the 1st to announce my visit to Howard & other[s] started to dream ‘what if,’” Maker tweeted. “I need to make the HBCU movement real so that others will follow. I hope I inspire guys like Mikey Williams to join me on this journey. I am committing to Howard U & coach Kenny Blakeney.”
Aug. 6: Purdue starter transfers in
Eastern, a 6-foot-7 guard who started 27 games for Purdue last season, announces he would spend his final year of eligibility at Howard and would apply to the NCAA for a hardship waiver in hopes of participating in the 2020-21 season.
Aug. 14: The Bison return to the District
Howard players arrive on campus and begin a two-week quarantine period. Maker reports to campus with a groin/hip injury suffered while training in California.
Aug. 28: The marathon begins
With the quarantine complete, Howard begins basketball activities and implements the following guidelines for its makeshift bubble:
1) Student-athletes are required to stay in the university-provided, studio-style apartments in the Axis at Howard apartment complex.
2) Athletes are tested three times per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
3) Players are not allowed to entertain guests.
4) Players receive a weekly $210 food stipend.
The initial plan includes dining hall staff preparing and delivering meals to the athletes each day, but Howard later pivoted to the stipend arrangement.
Given their varying cooking skills and some units not including full stoves, the players frequent Roaming Rooster, Chipotle and Negril, a Jamaican restaurant.
Nov. 26: Maker makes his college debut
With three projected starters out because of injuries (reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rookie of the year Wayne Bristol Jr., freshman Jordan Wood and Eastern), Howard drops its Thanksgiving Day season opener to Belmont, 95-78.
After scoring seven quick points, Maker is neutralized by Belmont’s veteran frontcourt. Maker finishes with 11 points, eight rebounds and five turnovers.
“I think he did just fine, but it’s going to be a learning experience for him,” Blakeney says. “The college game is so much different than the high school game, and it doesn’t matter if you’re playing at Howard. … It’s going to be an adjustment, and I think that in his first game he got a taste of what college basketball is like.”
Nov. 27: Maker is shut down
The Bison fall to Division II Queens University of Charlotte, 85-71. At various points in the game, Maker is seen grimacing. The game broadcast shows Maker getting constant treatment on his hip during breaks. The NBA prospect sees minimal minutes during the second half, playing 19 minutes total and recording 12 points, four rebounds and two assists.
During the postgame news conference, Blakeney tells The Washington Post that Howard will shut down Maker for the foreseeable future.
“Quite honestly, he’s really banged up, and we’re going to shut him down until he gets healthy because right now he’s just not,” Blakeney says. “He’s not able to move, and I don’t want him to be counterproductive right now.
“He’s such a competitor that he really wanted to go out and try to do the best for his teammates and for himself. But sometimes you got to help people get out of their own way, and I think that this is one of those times that we have to do that.”
Dec. 17: Eastern opts out
A day after the NCAA grants blanket waivers to all transfers, Eastern opts out of the season, citing concerns about playing during the pandemic.
Dec. 18: At long last, a win
After an 0-4 start, the Bison overcome a 17-point deficit to beat rival Hampton, 81-76, in the “Battle of the Real HU” at Burr Gymnasium.
“It’s been a tough year for us in more ways than one, but these guys all know how much that game means to a lot of people,” Blakeney says. “So to see our guys get down big and just continue to fight and rep for the real HU, man, it just means everything and shows that the things we’re preaching are sticking and better days are ahead.”
Dec. 22: Players head home for holidays
Initially, Howard intends to keep its athletes on campus during the holiday season, but after mulling it over with medical professionals, Athletic Director Kery Davis is advised that time spent with family, outside the makeshift bubble, could greatly benefit the student-athletes from a mental health perspective.
With its game vs. Mount St. Mary’s canceled, Howard allows players to visit family in the D.C. area from Dec. 22 to 26.
Jan. 1, 2021: The bubble bursts
During weekly coronavirus testing, multiple players turn up positive. According to Davis, they were the first positive tests in the athletic department.
Jan. 3: Eastern declares for the NBA draft
“After carefully considering all my options, and with the uncertainty of COVID-19, I have decided to opt-out of the college basketball season to focus on my dreams to become a professional basketball player and train for the 2021 NBA draft,” Eastern announces on Twitter. “I will be signing with an agent and chase what I’ve worked for. I genuinely want to thank Howard University and the coaching staff for a tremendous opportunity!”
Jan. 4: More players test positive
Following another round of testing, more players, including Maker, test positive. One member of the staff and their partner also test positive.
Though Howard declines requests to confirm the number of positive tests, a person with knowledge of the situation tells The Post that the Bison have upward of 10 players test positive, many of whom experience symptoms.
Jan. 8: Howard pauses all basketball activities
The school releases a statement: “The Howard Men’s Basketball team has paused all activities due to positive COVID-19 test results among the program’s ‘Tier 1’ personnel, which consists of student-athletes, coaches, medical staff, equipment staff, game day operators, and officials.”
Jan. 14: Players begin to test out of isolation
During the first round of coronavirus tests since the outbreak, five players test negative.
Jan. 16: Showdown with Notre Dame is canceled
Howard announces it won’t host Notre Dame on Martin Luther King Jr. Day because of positive tests within the program.
“We are all incredibly disappointed by this cancellation,” Davis says. “This was a tremendous opportunity to bring national exposure to our basketball team and the University. However, it goes without saying that the health and welfare of our student-athletes is our priority first and foremost.”
Jan. 21: Abbreviated basketball activities resume
Six players and four members of Howard’s coaching staff combine to run a brief five-on-five practice.
Jan. 27: Another cancellation
Howard’s next game, which was scheduled for Monday against North Carolina Central and was slated to air nationally on ESPN2, is canceled because of covid concerns within the Bison program, Howard announced Wednesday. The next scheduled game is Feb. 7 at home vs. Morgan State.
If Howard adheres to its trainer’s recommendation that players train two weeks for every week missed, the Bison would be in line to return around Feb. 13 at Delaware State.
“The most important thing for me is that we get all of our guys healthy and back in shape,” Blakeney says. “If that happens in time for our next game, great. If not, we won’t rush them back just for the sake of saying we played.”
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