Kenny Blakeney and Howard are having quite the offseason.
The Bison landed a commitment from Purdue transfer wing Nojel Eastern, who announced the move on Twitter on Thursday. This comes just over a month after the program got a commitment from five-star freshman forward Makur Maker in a giant boon not only for Howard, but also HBCU’s renewed ability to attract high major talent.
Eastern carved out a role as a defensive starter at Purdue, and was a mainstay and near-constant starter in Matt Painter’s rotation the past two seasons, averaging over 25 minutes per game. The Boilermakers coach seemed miffed upon Eastern announcing he was transferring following the season, expressing his frustration on Dan Dakich’s radio show.
“We’ve got a lot of great things going on at Purdue, and it’s (Eastern’s) loss,” Painter told Dakich. “When you walk out the door and you turn your back, you’re not thinking clearly about the big picture and what Purdue can do for you.”
The powerful wing committed to Michigan in May, but was ultimately unable to enroll at the school due issues with credits he earned at Purdue not transferring to Ann Arbor. That put a big prize back on the transfer market, and one that Howard ultimately reeled in.
Eastern averaged 5.1 points and 4.0 rebounds per game over his career in West Lafayette and while he struggled shooting the ball, he was a versatile defender that was so important that he played 31 minutes in Purdue’s narrow Elite Eight loss to Virginia in 2019. He would figure to be one of the more talented players in the MEAC as he attempts to grow his offensive game.
The dream of pairing Eastern and Makur, however, may need to be put on pause. The school will need to apply to the NCAA for a waiver to get Eastern immediately eligible as he is not a graduate transfer. Whether the two work in tandem, or Eastern inherits the focal point role from Makur, the two players are a part of recruiting momentum surrounding HBCUs, especially with the renewed national conversation on racial issues.
Southern coach Sean Woods, who has also coached at Mississippi Valley State, recently talked about the realities of recruiting high major talent to HBCUs.
“It’s all about relationships. Howard had a relationship with [Makur] Maker and it was a good one. It’s going to happen but you just can’t throw your name in the hat for every high major kid in America just because,” Woods said. “There’s got to be a rhyme and reason and connection, and we know enough people out there that have high major kids that are going to show interest in HBCUs. Now we just have to be prepared to attract them once we get them on our campus and have all the things they need. But at the end of the day they still have to be ready to come in and fit in to what we do.”
For now, Blakeney and Howard have been the first to seemingly capitalize on what many hope is a growing trend.