FORT WAYNE – Ron Howard remembers those early games of his NBA D-League life when he couldn’t get a referee’s call to save it.
Those were the times when the eager, young Mad Ants guard would drive to the basket, only to get bounced like a pinball, hammered like a tack and whacked like an arcade game mole, yet no foul would be called.
When you’re a rookie, officials don’t know your name or who you are; they don’t know your tendencies – and vice versa, Howard said. We don’t know the officials when you’re a rookie; you don’t know their names, you don’t know their tendencies; who you can talk to in certain ways and who you can’t. I think it’s normal that on every level there’s a sense of a pecking order.
But Howard is in his sixth season with the Mad Ants. As the team’s all-time leader in games played, scoring and community goodwill, the Chicago native and former Valparaiso player has even been bestowed with the title of Mr. Mad Ant.
Because his style still relies on attacking the rim and drawing contact, the 6-foot-5, 185-pound Howard is finally getting the calls he didn’t get as a rookie. The result is that he’s leading the D-League in free throw attempts (89) and free throws made (78).
We want him attacking, Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. Our offensive sets are geared for him coming off the screens or with the ball, and dribble-drive situations.
Getting (to the free throw line) that many times, did we expect it? No. But he’s just attacking the basket. He’s playing at a higher level than I’ve ever seen him play in the five years I’ve known him – at both ends of the floor.
Howard went 9 for 9 from the line in Wednesday’s 112-101 loss in Canton. The game before that, in Maine, he was 11 of 11, and 10 of 12 the night before in Springfield, Mass. His fewest number of free throws attempted this season has been seven, of which he made them all; his most attempts were 18, and he made 14.
I saw a different aspect of my game I could change in being more aggressive, Howard said. Even when I don’t have the ball – when I’m cutting through the lane, I cut aggressively; and if my defender isn’t prepared for that, he’s probably going to foul me to stop me.
In 31 games with the Ants last season, Howard averaged six free throw attempts and 17.5 points per game. This season his free throws per game have nearly doubled and his points average has increased to a career-best 22.5.
He’s finishing so well, Ticknor said. He’s had a lot of conventional three-point plays getting to the rim. And let’s face it, he’s a veteran getting the calls, too.
Notes: The Pacers announced that rookie center Miles Plumlee has been assigned to the Mad Ants. Plumlee will be in uniform for the Mad Ants’ next two games, today against Maine and Saturday against Springfield, both at the Coliseum.