HBCU Game Time

Robert Covington Named D-League’s Top Rookie

I’m excited to write HBCU Game Time, powered by BOX TO ROW for JET!  As host of the national sports talk radio show, From the Press Box to Press Row, I cover all sports, with an emphasis on our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with pro sports and some entertainment sprinkled in from time to time.

About two months ago, Houston Rockets rookie Robert Covington was named the NBA Development League All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.

On Saturday, he was named the D-League’s top rookie.

Covington, who is on assignment from the Rockets with the Rio Grand Valley Vipers, was the league’s second leading scorer averaging 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game, while shooting 44 percent from the field.

“Robert has had an excellent rookie season,” said Chris Alpert, vice president of basketball operations and player personnel for the NBA D-League. “He embraced the opportunity to develop all aspects of his game in the NBA D-League and proved that he is able to perform at a professional level.”

It almost didn’t happen
Covington was a three-time BOXTOROW All-American at Tennessee State University.  He will go down in history as one of the Tigers’ all-time great players along with Dick Barnett, Anthony Mason, Truck Robinson, and Carlos Rogers–all of whom played in the NBA.

Covington finished his TSU career seventh all-time in points (1,749) and rebounds (876).

He has played in nine games with the Rockets so far this year, averaging 2.3 points per game, with his best performance coming on April 9 against Denver when he scored five points on three-of-five shooting with a +/- differential of 15.

Covington’s path to success, however, almost didn’t happen.  He wasn’t heavily recruited out of Proviso High School in Bellwood, Ill.  But Dana Ford, who was recently named the new men’s basketball coach at TSU and was an assistant coach at the time, saw Covington at an unsigned senior showcase, a month before he graduated high school.

“I felt comfortable coming down and felt like I fit right in with what coach [John Cooper] was going to do,” said Covington.  “He told me all I had to do was come in and work, that nothing was going to be given to me.  I kept that mindset the whole time and was never satisfied.”

At 6’9” with a high basketball IQ and great touch from outside, NBA scouts really began to take notice.  Coming into his senior season, Covington was projected as a late first round draft pick.

But his senior season got off to a bad start.  He began to get his rhythm back two weeks into the season and just as he did, he suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for a little more than a month.  When he returned, he played solid, but scouts became concerned because he wasn’t dominating the competition.

‘It was unfortunate’
When the 2013 NBA Draft came around, Covington did not hear his name called.

“Every college player wants to have the opportunity to hear his name called,” said Covington.  “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to, but I was still able to get something out of it.”

Right before the last name was called, Covington’s agent got a call from the Rockets who were interested in signing Covington.  Less than two hours after the draft, Covington had signed a two-year, partially guaranteed contract.

“It was quite a relief because I didn’t know if all my hard work would have been for naught,” he said.  “Once I got that phone call, it was a great feeling and a lot of relief.”

A superstar as a mentor
Covington’s work ethic continues.  In addition to his success so far, he has formed quite a bond with Rockets star center Dwight Howard.  One night during All-Star Weekend, he and Howard worked out until 2:00 in the morning.

Covington said Howard took him under his wing early on and has given him advice on working hard even when not in the best of moods and not losing sight of the big picture.

“He always stays positive with me even when I make mistakes,” said Covington.  “He stays on me and helps me throughout the process.”

Note: Covington is one of two former HBCU players now in the NBA.  Kyle O’Quinn formerly of Norfolk State now with the Orlando Magic is the other.  O’Quinn played in 69 games for the Magic, averaging 6.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.

Listen to Box to Row on Fridays 1p ET/10a PT on SiriusXM Channel 141 and Saturdays 12p/9a PT on SiriusXM Channel 142. You can follow Donal Ware on Twitter @dware1 and @boxtorow. Please share your thoughts at