Blakeney is holding the second annual Howard Men’s Basketball “State of the Program” on Sept. 19, which is an opportunity to connect with him and the players before the season. They aim to become the first Howard team in program history to make back-to-back NCAA Tournaments while also continuing their groundbreaking social justice work off the hardwood.
What is it like to manage a group of young, brilliant scholars?
I love our young men, and I love what Howard University stands for. I was on the phone with one of our managers, talking to him about how he inspires me. He’s a young man who had probably every Ivy League school giving him a full ride, and he chose Howard University to continue his education, growth, and development. Hearing stories like that, walking the campus that so many great people have walked before, and having done so much for our country and our world, I always say, “What would our world be without our university?” I’m honored just to be a part of a small piece of growing and educating young men and minds.
When you think about creating a Howard basketball outreach for alumni and fans, what can we expect?
It’s important to align ourselves with our alums, the Howard community, and the Howard campus, but in a broader way. We have the technology that we can use to have the outreach to touch so many more people, to let them know about our basketball program but also about our fabulous university. When we have a chance to speak in front of people, we also try to take advantage of the opportunity to present either our players or our university in a light that highlights the things that are going on either in our program with our student-athletes or things that may be going on with the university. We need to have the State of the Union chat with our fans, and we have a product this year that I think everyone will enjoy. We have 23 young men on our team, which is a large number for a basketball team, but all of these young men are very well deserving. So, I’m excited to present them to the Howard campus, alums, and the world in general.
As a father and Black man, what are some of the tools you’re using to help these young men grow?
As a coach, I feel that my job is more than just a basketball coach. I’m an educator, teacher, and leader. I’m a mentor of young men and women. Our classroom is large. We have a group of 23 on our basketball team, and we have a staff of five, so when you’re talking about how we communicate those messages to our teams, it must start with love. If those talks and that message don’t come from a loving place, I think that it gets a little less effective than it would if it came from a place of talking down to young people or being a little bit condescending. We start with love and empathy, and our message is to live life with a sense of urgency.
How does being a role model challenge you?
One of the things that I think happened with my maturation over the last year is that I’ve become a better coach, dad, husband, mentor, and teacher because our young men and women are deserving of it. If I’m going to walk the walk, then my game has to be on point, and there can’t be any slippage with the stuff that I do. They’ve challenged me to dig deeper to understand more lessons, to become more well-read, to become more well-researched, to do all of those things that we can do or I can do to help them take the next step has been the challenge that they’ve given me, and I’ve accepted and enjoyed that journey because they are worthy of it. If I’m not doing that, I am not being the teacher, mentor, and leader that they need and deserve.
What are three things your players can learn from you as a coach?
Hopefully, that I’m honest. I want to be transparent with my players, I want to be fair with our players. I think that is a huge part of their growth and development, the message that they’re hearing in terms of the transparency, and then the message that they’re hearing in terms of the fairness with the words that are coming out from me. I hope the last thing is love. I want our young men to be successful and we try to position them in things with internships, mentors, and activities that may be taking place in Washington, D.C. I’m trying to give our guys every tool and love that they can do it, and I will be there with them step by step as they move forward in their journey to try to give them every resource possible to be successful.
How do you see the NIL deals affecting young Black collegiate players?
One of the things for me is how we grow a collective, which is part of funds that are used to be able to help young men with their name, image, and likeness, and allow them to make some money off of that. It can allow them to create a little bit of startup costs for them where they can send money home, invest in real estate, and have some opportunities to do some things at an earlier age to understand a little bit more of some fiscal responsibility. One of the things that an HBCU does is that we have to continue to develop those relationships in corporate America in the private sector and gain more sponsorship, so we can have a collective to keep these young men in our programs. It’s going to come a point in time where like for us last year, we lost three young men who were our top three players, who all had two years remaining on eligibility where they could have come back to Howard and continued the great work that they’ve already started and lay down a great foundation. But we lost those young men because of name, image, and likeness, so we need to do a great job of getting out, finding corporate sponsors, and finding partners to help grow and develop our collective so our young men won’t feel like they’re being compromised or compromising anything by being at our university.