By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
When the fall semester begins and students at Howard University ask their men’s basketball team how they spent summer vacation, they will pull out a passport. The Bison will get a head start on the 2019-2020 season when they head to Europe for a Summer Tour in Spain this August.
Howard, who figures to be a contender once again for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championship, gets the chance to face tough competition as the foreign exchange road trip marks the tipoff of first year head coach Kenny Blakeney’s era as the new Bison head coach.
“This trip will give us an opportunity to bond [as a team],” Blakeney said in a statement released by the university’s sports information department. “We’ll also get to see how we compete before we start practice in the fall.”
Blakeney, a former McDonald’s High School All-American from Dematha and two-time national champion player at Duke, is a first-time head coach at Howard. He was part of Tommy Amaker’s first Ivy League championship coaching staff at Harvard and previously coached at the University of Delaware under current Notre Dame coach Mike Brey who is a Dematha product as well. Blakeney wasn’t hired until early May, which puts him behind in preparing for the upcoming season as it does for most coaches in transition.
However, NCAA rules do allow for extra practice time which gave the Bison a chance to start offseason practicing on July 30 for this international excursion. The tour runs August 9-18 in Barcelona and Valencia and is as much a cultural experience for the players as it is about basketball. It begins in Barcelona where the 1992 Olympics were hosted. Those were the games of the original USA Basketball Dream Team which is considered the greatest collection of talent on one squad in the history of the game.
Howard will play two games in that city while touring one of soccer’s premiere venues Camp Nou Stadium- home of FC Barcelona where all-time-great Lionel Messi played most of his club career. The competitive phase of the trip will end in Valencia with a single contest.
“It’s such a unique experience that will provide great momentum towards the improvement of our program,” Blakeney added. “No matter how much you train or practice, you really don’t know about a team until you see it in game competition.”
sThis trip should be a chance for the team to bond on an extended road while learning offensive and defensive systems that are going to be implemented by Blakeney in his rookie year.
Howard’s team already has an international flavor. Upcoming Sophomore Andre Toure’ is from Paris, France and was born to a Nigerian father and Rusian mother. As a freshman Toure’ battled through injuries and averaged five points and 3.4 rebounds. Center Akuwovo Ogheneyole, another rising sophomore from Nigeria, averaged 4.6 points and five rebounds in his first season. Princewill Anosike, who also is Nigerian, averaged just 1.6 points and barely over two rebounds. Two of Blakeney’s late editions will compete with their teammates for the first time. Ian Lee, an Asian player from Toronto and Ireland’s Cian Heaphy will debut with the team also.
Meanwhile, former head coach Kevin Nickelberry has landed a new job in one of the top conferences in America. Nickelberry, who recruited the current Howard roster including two-time all-MEAC guard Charles Williams, is now an assistant at LSU. He is known as one of the top recruiters in the safe but the Tigers program is facing allegations for its recruiting practices and is being investigated by the FBI and NCAA.