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When your father is Percy “Master P” Miller, one of the savviest, brazenly conspicuous, and odds-defying moguls in hip-hop history, you have no choice but to project some of that legendary let-me-show-you ambition. So it wasn’t so much a shock when it was announced this past summer that Hercy Miller, 19, had scored a $2 million endorsement pact as an incoming freshman on the Tennessee State Tigers basketball team.
Indeed, the 6-foot-3 guard’s deal with tech company Web Apps America, which was made possible by the NCAA’s groundbreaking rule change allowing students to earn money off of their name, likeness, and image, isn’t really the true headline here. It’s Hercy’s unbridled passion to help transform historically Black institutions like Tennessee State, into major national players.
The three-star recruit bypassed several offers from such powerhouse schools USC, LSU and Missouri to attend the smaller HBCU. But TSU’s basketball history is rich—including three straight titles when it was member of the NAIA. While Hercy’s dream is to make it to the NBA like TSU product and Portland Trailblazer Robert Convington (the late, great Anthony Mason is also an alum), he sees himself having an even more profound impact off the court. “With my decision [to go] here, I felt like I wanted to make a change, I wanted to make a difference,” Hercy explains during a sit-down interview alongside his outspoken pops, on the campus of Tennessee State. “I feel like I’m the type of player that I’m a leader. People look up to me. A lot of people follow me. And I feel like with hard work it’s possible.”
“And I support him because it’s a great decision and choice to be able to be at a historically Black university, and be here as a family,” adds a proud Master P, who in the ‘90s built his No Limit Enterprises (headlined by his ubiquitous No Limit Records) into a $110 million behemoth. The enterprising New Orleans native also revolutionized the straight-to-DVD biz (1997’s I’m Bout It), and in the 00’s helped guide his son Percy “Romeo” Miller’s successful rap and acting jump (Master P even co-created his son’s Nickelodeon sitcom Romeo!).
This is a man with boundless ambition who during our interview glowingly praises NFL Hall of Famer turned Jackson State’s head football coach Deion Sanders, who in just a short time has proven to be a significant change-agent for HBCU’s. Master P (who has a sip of tea in the NBA after rap stardom and a short stint at the University of Houston) and Hercy envision themselves doing the same. And you would be wise not to bet against them.
Cassius: How involved were you in the decision for Hercy to come to Tennessee State?
Master P: Well, I wasn’t involved in Hercy’s decision at all. I thought he was going to choose LSU, our hometown. I thought he was going to choose USC where Romeo went… and maybe even UCLA. But I was shocked. [Hercy] got on the phone with coach [Brian “Penny” Collins] and said, ‘I want to go to Tennessee State.’ And knowing as an HBCU he wasn’t going to get all the perks he was going to get going to LSU or UCLA. But when he told me the reason and the mission… he said he wanted to make a difference. We were on the phone and he was like, ‘I want to go to Tennessee State. And I was like, ‘You want to think about that for a little while [laughs]?’ And he said, ‘No, dad. This is where I want to go.’ Because once he decided to come here, we are a part of this Tennessee State family now and [we have] a great coach that has a big vision.
I think it’s great. I think it’s going to inspire other kids to want to come to HBCUs.
They got the opportunity to go to the NCAA playoffs this year. I think it’s great. I think it’s going to inspire other kids to want to come to HBCU’s. I feel like he made the right decision. I told him to just stay a student in the game… the game of life. Just keep getting better, keep growing and don’t worry about the pressure and none of that stuff. Just come in and get better. You’re only a freshman, so take your time and get better and keep putting the work it and then let God handle the rest.
Now Hercy, to make that type of decision and to understand the magnitude of that decision, what were some of the things that you were thinking about? Because that’s a lot to have to decide at that age and say, no, this is what I want to do and I why I want to do it, and I see the bigger vision. Where did that come from?
Hercy: Well with me, I felt like [choosing a college] was very hard for me. But once I got in contact with Coach Penny, I felt like TSU was home for me. And the funny thing is, like my dad said, they thought I was going to commit somewhere else.
Master P: Just don’t party too hard [laughs]. That’s all. Stay focused. People don’t realize… when I got to college I had nobody to tell me nothing. I came from the projects. And we broke that cycle to where we’re already living in a nice environment. We have all the nicest things in life, but it’s not about that. It’s not about material stuff, it’s not about being at a certain level. It’s about being able to love something.
What I love about what Hercy is doing, he did something that he’s passionate about. A lot of kids don’t do that. They just want to go with the big name schools and be in the big places. The sacrifices that he’s making… he’s not going to be on ESPN every night. But I think when people see HBCU Universities now they are going to say, you know what? If Hercy made it out of there, I know I can go there and that light is going to shine. Then they are going to start putting us on ESPN. They are going to start changing the game. You can focus on a school, build relationships and be a part of the community and that’s what I love.
[Hercy] got here and he’s in the community. He [had] basketball camp that had over 1000 kids. He knows what he needs to do here. It’s not going to be easy. But I feel… that’s how life is for me. I just keep getting back up. We No Limit for life. And that’s the main thing [about] what I love about him coming [to TSU]. He said, ‘Dad, we don’t have all the things that we need here, but me being here, and Deion Sanders and them being at Jackson State, these states are going to have to start putting money into these schools and making these programs just as big as all the rest of them.
I looked at Deion Sanders and [Jackson State]. They are ranked [in the top 25 national poll] in the country out of all the universities now and he only had a $2 million budget for football [versus] some of the teams that are way under him. They got like $40 and $50 million dollar football budgets. He only had like a $17,000 recruitment budget. So I think now they are going to see that imbalance because they got stars coming to HBCUs to where they know they got to put money into these universities so we can compete. And a lot of the kids are going to start coming here because of Hercy Miller.
And Hercy, what are you studying?
Hercy: I’m a business major.
I want to create student-athletes because education is the key.
P, I think you need to go ahead and write that parenting book…
Master P: I think the parenting book is just spending time with your kids. A lot of people don’t spend time with their kids. They get to a certain level of life. They are expecting somebody else to take the time and I’ve just been blessed to where whatever job I have I’m going to have to make my kids a part of it. Like Hercy said, I don’t want to just create athletes. I want to create student athletes because education is the key. And to be able to come here and watch the education, the teachers, the professors, they are serious about helping these kids get to the next level. Because they feel these kids look like us. We want them to go out and make it.
Hercy didn’t have a car until he came to college. And there was a reason. I wanted to teach him hard work. He can get whatever he wants, but at the same time it’s [about] keeping your kids humble and letting them know who God is. Because we have Bible studies every Sunday. Education is the most important thing that you can have. I said if I could give my kids that then they can eat even when I’m not around.
Nashville is a second home. It [feels] like I’ve been here forever.
When you look in the Bible they say knowledge and wisdom is the most important thing you [can] give to any man or any woman. And so I just keep feeding them that. We understand business. Because I think what they don’t teach us is economics and banking. So I’ve been teaching my kids that since they were 5 and 10-years-old. Understand what economics and banking is and you can survive. Because everybody thinks it’s about money. But if you have a good credit score you can do whatever you want.
We from New Orleans, so it’s like the hurricane can come and wash it away. We done packed up so many times and had to start over. We are not afraid to fail, we are not afraid to fall. We just keep getting back up and [working] hard. And I think the people that do that the blessings will keep coming. [Percy is] prepared for this mission. This is what he wants. I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen. And like [Hercy] said, it’s no pressure. Just take your time and get better. You get the right coaches, you get the right people around in the community that want to see you win and you’ll grow. You don’t have to win every game, but you learn something from every game. And that’s what I’ve learned in life.
Growing up in the projects in the Calliope, I could have been angry and mad. I’m in a bad place. I said, nah, I got a roof over my head. I’m going to get myself up out of here. I think that’s what he’s going to do at Tennessee State. This school being able to win some games, get to a championship… and everything else changes. But it don’t have to happen overnight. Just grow and take your time. I tell him all the time, just trust the process. We not coming here saying we are the big dogs, we the best things on campus. Nah. Learn the game, learn the system and get better.