If you take a look at the HBU men’s basketball roster from the 2018-19 season, something besides a number of very tall college athletes might stand out to you. The Huskies’ roster features four players who call North Carolina home, and a fifth who spent his high school years in the Tar Heel State. That’s nearly as many players (six) as the Huskies have from Texas.
As you can probably guess, it’s no accident that five underclassmen on the HBU roster all came from the same state.
“This relationship with the North Carolina recruits started several years ago when we were able to identify some guys who we felt fit our program, on the court and off the court, very well,” said Head Men’s Basketball Coach Ron Cottrell. “It kind of grew from there as we went over to see guys and build a reputation in recruiting players over there. We identified the area as a really good basketball environment for high school guys who are quality people and high academic guys who love the sport and felt comfortable as we went through the recruiting process coming to HBU.”
First came the three sophomores on the roster, Ian DuBose, Oliver Lynch-Daniels and Philip McKenzie. DuBose grew up in Durham, NC and attended the Ravenscroft School in nearby Raleigh, while LynchDaniels is from Chapel Hill but attended high school at Oak Hill Academy, a few hours from home and just across the state line in Virginia. For McKenzie, he was already far from home as he grew up in Nassau, in the Bahamas. McKenzie began attending the Cannon School as a sophomore in high school, living in a new country with host families.
When he began to be recruited by the HBU coaching staff, McKenzie mentioned the family feel of the staff and team as a deciding factor. He said, “With HBU, it was the family aspect. As someone coming from the Bahamas, and my parents still live there, I spent a lot of time going from host family to host family in North Carolina. It was important to be able to go with people you trust. When I came to HBU and talked with the coaching staff, I felt like I could trust them. I felt like HBU would be a good place where I could grow.”
For the 2018-19 season, the Husky coaching staff signed two more players in Benjamin Uloko and Qon Murphy. Uloko came from Clemmons, NC while Murphy came from Cornelius, NC and attended the same school as McKenzie. Murphy already knew a few of the guys and remembered playing against others, and as he said, it helped make the decision to come to Houston easier.
“Just knowing that those guys were down here made it a lot easier for me,” Murphy said. “Knowing that change, we all kind of made it together, going through the same thing of being far from home, it was something that helped us bond going through it together.”
Cottrell added, “I think it’s been great for those guys to have each other as a support system.” He also said, “They built a culture right off the bat because they all knew each other playing against or with each other through AAU ball or in high school. They brought in a chemistry among themselves that kind of spread throughout our program with guys who really do care about each other, number one, and who really like our institution and being part of our culture as a school as much as a basketball program.”
It wasn’t all basketball that drew the student athletes to Houston. As DuBose noted, “The city has a lot of opportunities to offer, like medical opportunities with the Medical Center so close. The various universities in the city and different opportunities in the city are great. After basketball and after school there are a lot of people and businesses you can connect with in Houston, so that was a big thing that I looked at.”
All five also mentioned the University’s strong academic reputation as an important factor as well, with Murphy specifically mentioning the pros of the class sizes at HBU while Uloko and LynchDaniels noted the school’s academics holding up to, not only their own scrutiny, but also their families’. All three sophomores were recognized by the Southland Conference as part of the Commissioner’s Honor Roll after their freshmen seasons.
McKenzie helped sum things up by noting a shared desire to represent the state of North Carolina during their time at HBU: “It felt like being part of something bigger. When you find out there’s a group of guys coming from your state it feels like a responsibility on your shoulders. The coaches are bringing you all in because they believe in you and that puts a responsibility on you. You represent for the other guys, their homes, and for me, my second home. It’s kind of like bringing North Carolina with us to HBU and wearing that flag on our shoulders. I feel that way about the Bahamas, too.”