Yet Howard keeps pushing forward. He's 30 years old and so his window for an NBA call-up is closing. It's not shut, and considering he's playing the best basketball of his career, maybe this will be the year he gets that long-awaited call.
“I know it's possible, so that's why I have to control what I can control,” Howard said. “I can't bang my head against the wall that it hasn't happened yet. Hopefully, I can make it easy for that person at the time they need to make a decision on me.”
Howard, who will play in the D-League All-Star game at 3 p.m. Saturday (NBA TV) in Houston, is a perfect example of the “development” at the heart of the NBA's minor league. He made the Mad Ants a couple years out of Valparaiso University during open tryouts in 2007. “I was the 11th man on a 10-man roster,” he said. He fought for playing time, became a starter and, due to longevity and production, is known as “Mr. Mad Ant.”
Being Mr. Mad Ant is a double-edged sword. Howard would rather be a Pacer, Piston or Buck than the face of a minor-league franchise. But he doesn't shun the title nor consider it a backhanded compliment.
Howard's style is to keep pushing, be professional and strive to get better.
Howard and his wife, Reesha, settled in Fort Wayne, have two young daughters (Chloe, 6, and Peyton, 2) and run their own children's summer day camp, Game Day Sports Camp. The Howards, both from Chicago, consider Fort Wayne their home. Howard said he especially credits his wife's support during the season as she handles the children's daily needs to help him play with a "free mind."
“Back (in 2007), I was just happy to be here, period,” Howard said. “And I still am. I still don't take it for granted because of that experience. Basketball was almost taken way from me before it started. I'm appreciative and humbled by that, and grateful to still be here, to still be healthy enough to play, to still have the ability to play at a high level, to still be wanted. I'm blessed, I truly am.”
And, yet, that NBA dream continues to pull.
Howard switched to point guard full time this season after the Mad Ants traded veteran Walker Russell Jr., a long-time teammate.
Ants coach Duane Ticknor says Howard should have been at the point from the start, that it's his best position to thrive and to get that elusive shot.
Again, Howard doesn't look back in frustration that he could have made faster progress if he'd been at the point earlier. On the contrary, he says he benefited from playing with Russell, who earned his first NBA call-up last season at age 29.
“(Point guard) came somewhat natural because I'd been playing with Walker, watching him, learning from him, as well as opportunities I've had with the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks (in camps),” Howard said. “Once you've got the ball in your hand and everyone turns and looks to you for direction, it's a different feeling. I was more prepared for that, and it was easier for me than it would have been years prior.”
Howard returned to the Mad Ants lineup Feb. 4 after a two-week absence with a bruise to the inside of his right kneecap. At the time, he worried that it might be a tear, so he was relieved by the diagnosis. It's taken a couple games to get back in the full swing again, but his numbers in a 119-98 win at Iowa on Saturday were indicative of his play this season: He scored 21 points with six assists, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Howard's season averages are 18.2 points and 4.5 assists per game. His assists are easily a career high, indicative of his switch to the point. His scoring has not tailed off, still two points higher than his career average.
Many, including Howard, feel he is having his best season. The Ants (15-17) are 12-7 in their last 19 games and pursuing their first playoff berth.
Being a veteran has its perks, especially at the time where he feels he's near the peak of his performance.
“You've made all your bad mistakes on the floor, things are slowing down for you (in understanding the game),” Howard said. “I've felt it, that I'm playing better than I ever have before, and it feels good to be able to say that after all these years. I'm still playing, and playing better than I ever have.
“I'll continue to work and hopefully the right people will realize I'm continuing to get better, I haven't peaked and they should give me a chance.”Mad Ants guard Tony Mitchell will be among four competitors in the NBA D-League Slam Dunk Contest at halftime of the D-League All-Star game.
Mitchell will compete against Idaho's Josh Owens, Reno's Dar Tucker and Rio Grande Valley's Glen Rice, Jr.
The dunk contest will be judged by Phoenix Suns guard Shannon Brown, former NBA players Darryl Dawkins and Michael Ray Richardson and the fan winner of the NBA D-League Boost Mobile Sweepstakes.
Ron Howard's Top 2012-13 GamesDec. 29: Howard leads the Mad Ants with a double-double of 26 points and 11 assists in a 107-83 win at Erie.
Dec. 28: Ants defeat Texas Legends at home 107-97. Howard hits 10 of 17 shots, scoring 23 points with eight assists, and starts an eight-game winning streak.
Jan. 3: Ants hammer the Santa Cruz Warriors 102-86. Ants are led by Howard's 25 points and six assists.
Jan. 9: Howard records his second double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 assists. He also adds seven rebounds in a 116-97 win over Rio Grand Valley.
Feb. 9: In a 119-98 win over Iowa, Howard scores 21 points while adding six assists and five rebounds.
- Kale DeVoe
For more on the Mad Ants, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1