Howard men’s basketball shuts down season due to COVID-19 concerns

WASHINGTON – The Howard University men’s basketball program will suspend the remainder of its 2020-21 season “out of an abundance of caution” due to concerns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a statement released Tuesday, the athletic department said the decision would allow student-athletes an opportunity to focus on their studies and time to get back to “full physical and mental health.” The Bison (1-4) only competed in five games all season, last playing on Dec. 18.

Multiple media outlets report that a positive case was found after players returned from the winter break. Howard paused team activities on Jan. 8, resuming on a limited basis two weeks later. Coronavirus concerns re-emerged before a Jan. 27 matchup against North Carolina Central, causing another postponement.  

“We had several team members test positive in January and were forced to place the program on hold, cancel several games and finally cancel our season,” head coach Kenneth Blakeney said. “It was and remains the right thing for us to do.”

In total, 11 games were postponed or canceled, including a nationally televised game against Norte Dame on Martin Luther King Day. The Bison did not play any in-conference games and become the second program to call off their season after playing games. 

“Ultimately, our number one priority is to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes, both mentally and physically,” Blakeney said. “Canceling the season is in the best interest of the team at this time.”

The Bison received a lot of attention heading into the season with the signing of Makur Maker, a five-star center highly regarded as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Along with Maker, MEAC Rookie of the Year Wayne Bristol Jr. returned for another season, and Howard added Nojel Eastern, a Purdue transfer and two-time Big Ten All-Defense selection. 

However, the promising season slowly began to unravel as Maker, an NBA prospect, was shut down after his second game due to a groin injury. Eastern opted out of the season due to health concerns around COVID-19 and declared for the 2021 NBA draft in early January. He left the program without a game playing for the Bison. 

Howard is the third MEAC team to cancel their men’s basketball season. They join Bethune-Cookman, who shut down all athletics for the 2020-2021 academic year in October, and Maryland Eastern Shore. In November, the Hawks’ athletic program canceled all spring sports, including men’s and women’s basketball. 

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