Growing up in the USA, Matt Howard never had a problem putting together teams to play a game of basketball. That’s not just because state of Indiana, where he was born and raised, is one of the biggest basketball regions of the United States. It’s also because all he had to do to play a full court game was - asking his family.
Basketball was ever-present for Howard. If you are one of 10 brothers and sisters, and have a basket close enough to your house, you can always find enough people to make teams, play often, and get good at it. In Howard’s case – get really good at it.
“Yeah, that was always the joke. People say you can play five-on-five”, says Matt, who is the eighth youngest among five boys and five girls in Howard family. “Most of my family loves basketball, and we played a lot of basketball games. We had couple sisters that could play, but not all of them. We had to have some neighbors come and play, but the sisters would mix it up in there.”
Howard is in the midst of his best season since he turned pro in 2011, and is coming off two of his best all-round games in his Eurocup career. The forward, who stands at 2.03 meters and will turn 26 years old later this month, is averaging 10.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game this Eurocup campaign. However, during the Last 32 phase he has stepped up and posted an impressive line of 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 blocks per contest.
Known for his undersized and bruising style, and with contributions on both ends of the floor, Howard is a big reason why Strasbourg has had its best ever start to a Eurocup season, opening it with an 8-1 record, and winning 9 of its first 11 games. He even had an overtime buzzer beater in Round 2 of the regular season against CAI Zaragoza. His performances and clutch baskets, however, come as no surprise.
Before his professional career, Howard was a collegiate star who helped a small local university in his home state to the unforeseen heights of NCAA basketball. He led the underdog Butler Bulldogs to consecutive national championship games in 2010 and 2011. Other than winning the most games in school history, and receiving numerous national and conference accolades, he was widely known for his on-floor hustle and determination. He was a fearless player and a leader who knew to simply outsmart his opponents. Some of that savvy he learnd in those family basketball affairs during his early days.
“Most of my brothers and sisters are older, so I got to grow up against stronger and bigger people. I think that helped me out," Howard said, while remembering how he had to deal with his oldest brother.
“My oldest brother is 12 years older than me. So he could control the games when we played, but it was good to play against him and learn from him and learn some tricks. He would pretty much assume the role of a captain. He liked to be the captain and take control and manipulate the games. It is something [the rest of us] would get frustrated with, but nothing we could do about it.”
Matt first brought his home-grown devotion for basketball to Europe when he joined Olympiacos in 2011, and since has played for Ludwigsburg and ratiopharm Ulm in Germany, as well as Roanne in France.
“I think some people try to say Indiana is the home of basketball, or basketball is king in Indiana. It is number one sport, everybody loves it there. A good representation of that is if you go to small towns, villages. My gym, where I came from, had 5,000 seats, and it was a small town. And then we would go play at places that held 9,000, and that just sort of tells you how big it is.”
His team-first approach, his care for winning and love for basketball years ago made Howard a huge fan-favorite. But in those big crowds that he got used to playing in front of, he always knew where his biggest and most devoted fans were.
“I would say my family [members] are my biggest fans. They rarely missed any of my games while I played in college, and some of them would travel to all the away games, as well. That’s pretty big devotion to me.”