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NBA HBCU Classic will feature CIAA rivals Virginia Union and Winston-Salem State — Andscape

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Historically Black colleges Virginia Union University and Winston-Salem State University, Division II rivals in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, will participate in the 2024 NBA HBCU Classic game during NBA-All Star Weekend in Indianapolis, the NBA announced Tuesday.

“It’s gonna be a great opportunity. I think the kids are gonna remember this for the rest of their lives,” said Virginia Union men’s basketball coach Jay Butler. “It gives them [the] opportunity to play on a bigger stage, and playing on national TV in front of millions gives them the opportunity to not only put together some film for the NBA but also for overseas [teams].”

The game will be broadcast at 2 p.m. Feb. 17 on TNT and ESPN2 from Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the home arena of the Indiana Pacers.

The CIAA is the third HBCU conference to play in the classic. Morgan State University and Howard University represented the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in the inaugural game in 2022, and Grambling State University and Southern University represented the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the game earlier this year.

“We’ve been very intentional about that, making sure that each conference has an opportunity to be represented and perform on this stage so our fans can see that depth and the breadth of the HBCU community,” said NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum.

The CIAA, the oldest HBCU conference in the country, is the first on the Division II level to participate in the classic, which was designed to provide national exposure for HBCU athletes.

“We are thrilled the CIAA will be represented during this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend,” said conference commissioner Jacqie McWilliams-Parker. “This is an amazing opportunity to give expanded exposure for our DII student-athletes, our member institutions and the HBCU community. We look forward to bringing the talent, culture and excellence of the CIAA to the grandest stage of the game.”

Virginia Union and Winston-Salem State rank first and second, respectively, in the CIAA for the most men’s basketball tournament titles in conference history, tallying 20 and 13 conference championships.

Three of the last five conference matchups between the two programs were single-digit games. Winston-Salem State men’s basketball coach Cleo Hill Jr. believes this matchup won’t be any different, especially since the CIAA Tournament will begin on Feb. 26, less than two weeks later.

“We have a target on our back because we’re Winston-Salem State, No. 1, but since we’ve had so much success winning two out of three conference championships and then the division championship,” Hill said. “When you have a real target, we can’t look past nonconference play, division play or conference play. I just want to be playing our best basketball going down that stretch of that [classic] game and into the CIAA Tournament.”

Both programs boast several former NBA players as alumni, including Charles Oakley (Virginia Union) and Hall of Famers Ben Wallace (Virginia Union) and Earl Monroe (Winston Salem-State). Wallace will serve as Virginia Union’s honorary captain, and ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, a former player for Winston-Salem State, will serve as that team’s honorary captain. 

The league also expects Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul, an alumnus of Winston-Salem State, to attend the game.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington, a Tennessee State University product, is the only active player in the league who played at an HBCU. Currently there are eight players with ties to HBCU programs on NBA G League rosters, including Winston-Salem State alum Javonte Cooke.

“I think having the HBCU classic and our All-Star game will continue to provide those opportunities for exposure to HBCUs and the high-quality basketball of HBCUs,” Tatum said. “Over time young players growing up who see that will potentially consider HBCUs as an option.

“I think HBCUs are continuing to invest in their basketball programs and developing talent as well, so I do see this as an opportunity to again grow the interest, exposure [and] awareness of quality of HBCU basketball, which will attract more talent [into HBCUs] and even more talent into that league.”

The NBA and league partners will donate $100,000 each to Virginia Union and Winston-Salem State to support academic resources, athletics and wellness services. The league is also offering an NBA HBCU Fellowship program, which provides HBCU undergraduate and graduate students with career development opportunities in basketball operations.

Both teams can’t wait to showcase the physical brand of basketball played in the CIAA.

“End of the day, it’s gonna be two defensively-minded coaches trying to play a low-scoring game. But we want to add a little excitement to the All-Star Weekend, so we’re gonna try to get after them,” Butler said. “It’s a game that counts.”

Hill expects another close matchup between the two programs.

“In the last five years, all of our games have been close [and] down to the wire. So, I think everybody will get a glimpse of what CIAA basketball is,” Hill said. “They will see what Division II HBCU basketball is at its highest level with our teams. They’ll be pleasantly surprised at the level of play that we play with and the intensity.”

Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, “Go Irish.”


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