It has been a few years since there was thought to be a basketball player from an HBCU that had a legitimate chance to be drafted into the NBA coming into the season.
An end could be put to that this season.
If things go according to plan for Tennessee State senior forward Robert Covington, it would be the first time since the 2003 and 2004 that players from an HBCU would be drafted in back-to-back seasons. In 2003, Shaw’s Ronald “Flip” Murray was drafted in the second round by the then Seattle Supersonics and the next year North Carolina Central’s David Young was taken in the second round by the Supersonics as well.
This past year, Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn was taken in the second round by the Orlando Magic. As a matter of fact, not a single player from an HBCU was drafted between the time Young and O’Quinn were drafted.
Unlike O’Quinn whose name really became associated with the draft after his scintillating performance against Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Covington is a legitimate NBA draftee who is a certain second round pick but has the potential to be drafted in the first round.
According to nbadraft.net, Covington is the 34th best prospect and is projected as a late first round pick.
But first things first.
“I feel that if I get involved in all the hype, that’s when I’ll start to lose focus on the season and that’s not what I want to do,” said Covington. “That’s going to come in the long run. I have to focus on what is happening now instead of down the road.”
What is happening now is Covington is part of a Tigers team that returns four starters from last year and has been picked to finish second in the OVC East. Last year the Tigers were within a shot of going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.
Still it was one of the best seasons in recent memory for the Tigers, one in which they defeated at that time unbeaten and the No. 9 team in the country Murray State. It was those same Racers that defeated the Tigers by two points in the OVC tournament championship game. It was the Tigers first 20-win season since the 1978-79 season.
Covington had his best season as a Tiger last year. He finished third in the OVC in scoring (17.9 ppg), second in rebounding (7.9), third in 3-point percentage (44.8%), fourth in blocks (1.4 bpg), fifth in steals (1.5 spg), and seventh in field goal percentage (52.6%).
Still there is some unfinished business.
“That loss was by far the most disappointing loss of my career,” said Covington when asked about the OVC finals loss to Murray State. “I look back on that game and realize there are some things we could have done better. Now we’re hungrier and we know what it takes to get to that next step. We have all bought in to what we have to do to get to where we need to go.”
Former TSU head coach John Cooper left to take the same position at Miami (Ohio). Top assistant Travis Williams who helped to recruit Covington takes over, which makes the transition for the program and Covington easier.
“I’ve built a relationship with Coach Williams ever since I’ve been here,” said Covington. For him to get the head coaching job was a relief to me and my teammates because we didn’t want someone to come in and change the style of play that we’ve established.”
While Covington is the ultimate team player the thought of the NBA is still very much a reality. In the summer he attended the prestigious Adidas Hoops Camp and was the second leading scorer only behind Deshaun Thomas of Ohio State. He averaged 12.6 points and four rebounds per game, shot 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range.
Scouts like his size at 6-9 and he has been compared to Indiana Pacers star forward Danny Granger.
The road to this point for Covington certainly hasn’t been easy. He was not recruited out of Proviso West High School in Bellwood, Ill. and was discovered by the TSU coaching staff at a senior showcase.
“Coach Cooper told me I had to work for everything,” recalls Covington. “I kept that mindset while I’ve been here and I never was satisfied. I used all that as motivation to work hard everyday and to continue to excel in my game.”
Covington is looking to follow in the footsteps of other TSU greats who were drafted such as Dick Barnett, Truck Robinson and more recently Anthony Mason and Carlos Rogers.
Covington has gotten off to a slow start this season, but in his last two games (as of December 3) is averaging 28.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 65.4 percent (17-of-26) from the field, 55.6 percent (5-of-9) from 3-point range and 94.4 percent (17-of-18) from the free throw line. In his last game against Alabama A&M he had 27 points, six rebounds, four steals, an assist and a block in TSU’s first road victory of the season.
For his effort, Covington was named OVC Player of the Week.
“You don’t see guys at that height and length with his skill level. He can shoot, he can put it on the floor, he’s a decent passer,” said an NBA scout who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“He needs to decide that he’s going to be the best player on the floor every night and use his talents and athletic ability to dominate and not accept just being another guy.”