When Howard University’s men’s basketball team makes its long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament return Thursday, Howard Holley will be watching closely.
“I feel like a proud father watching all of my boys out there,” Holley told WTOP soon after Howard clinched the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title last Saturday to earn an automatic NCAA berth.
- More Sports News
- More College Basketball News
- Bracket Breakdown: Maryland & Virginia head South, while Alabama gets the spotlight
- Howard University hosts send-off for men’s basketball team ahead of NCAAs
The conference title, and the subsequent invite to the Big Dance, are the first for Howard since the Bush administration… That would be the George H.W. Bush administration.
Thirty-one years later, the Bison are back and members of Howard’s last MEAC championship team have a special affinity for the current group.
“The eerie thing about it is that this team is reminiscent of the team we had in 1992,” said Holley, a senior guard on that Howard team and the 1992 MEAC Tournament MVP. “They play deep – nine-10 individuals – they play full-court pressure the entire game. They have great coaching and they persevered and have overcome adversity and all the obstacles that came their way.”
The similarities don’t end there. Holley couldn’t help but feel he was reliving his own experience from the 1992 MEAC Championship while watching last week’s conference final.
With an NCAA berth at stake last weekend in Norfolk, Howard’s Jelani Williams sank a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining to give the Bison the lead. It was a Howard defensive stop and a missed shot at the buzzer from Norfolk State that sealed a 66-65 HU win.
HOWARD IS DANCING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 31 YEARS! 🦬 pic.twitter.com/fTXaBHqw06
— ESPN (@espn) March 11, 2023
In the same building 31 years earlier, Holley sank a pair of free throws with 11 seconds remaining to give the Bison the lead. A Howard defensive stop and a missed shot at the buzzer from Florida A&M sealed a 67-65 Bison win.
Even the matchup in the NCAA tournament is the same as it was 31 years ago, 16th-seeded Howard facing the No.1 Kansas Jayhawks.
“If someone doesn’t believe in karma, or everything going in circles, this is a testament to that,” said Holley, who has been celebrating this latest milestone with other members of the ‘92 team on a text thread created at a reunion in 2018.
“Speaking on behalf of all of my 1992 MEAC Championship team, on behalf of the coaches and players who went through it, we’re all texting [this week] I think we could all say how proud we are that the 31-year drought is finally over.”
Holley says he reached out to Howard head coach Kenny Blakeney to personally congratulate him on guiding this year’s team to heights not seen in decades. Until this year, Howard had just one winning season since 2002. There is a belief, though, both on Howard’s campus and among alumni that the foundation is being laid for sustained success.
This isn’t just a good team, Holley says. It’s a good program.
“Anyone who followed this team, saw this coming and saw this opportunity coming. But what I’m most proud of and what I think others can be proud of is that [Blakeney] is not only building a team, but he’s also building young men to be involved in the community there at Howard University. Not only on court, but off the court as well. He’s building young men, and oh by the way, they just happen to be a great team.”