In 2010, Ron Howard parlayed big-time NBA D-League production into a training camp stint with Milwaukee. The 6-5 guard was cut and yet still didn’t stop pursuing his dream. Now 31, Howard was back for another try this year with Indiana and was cut just before the season started. It’s still not stopping him.
*** *** ***
It takes a special person to keep working after coming devastatingly short of realizing their dream. In 2010, Ron Howard was one of the last cuts for the Milwaukee Bucks. Their coach at the time, Scott Skiles, wanted to keep Howard. But there are only so many NBA roster spots, and after a failed buyout that would have opened a roster spot for the 6-5 guard, he was released.
But Howard never looked at it as a disappointment, more as a moment to learn. Despite playing well, the 31-year-old out of Valparaiso University still learned he had what it takes to make it in the NBA. That’s important since Howard signed a non-guaranteed deal to appear in training camp with the Pacers this fall, and then was subsequently cut from the best team in basketball just before the season started.
“I got so much better being there,” he says now of past experiences, “so I just use it as a positive to get back.”
The NBA Development League affiliates run scattershot across the semi-pro landscape. Despite pay that, as Howard’s Mad Ants assistant coach Steve Gansey says, is a big difference from the money players can make overseas, it’s still the best way to get on an NBA team’s radar. That’s what Howard has done, but it’s been a long journey. In Gansey’s words, Howard was “starting from the bottom.”
After transferring from Marquette University to Valparaiso University, Howard was named Second Team All-Mid Continent Conference in 2005, but his low profile and still-developing game meant that a future in professional basketball would likely take place far from the shores of the NBA. Howard joined the Mexican CIBACOPA league and in 2007 was named an All-Star while winning a championship with Trigueros de Ciudad Obreg��³n.
That’s when Howard began his D-League odyssey.
“He was an open tryout player for us,” Gansey says, “and all of a sudden he emerged and is an All-Star in our league the past couple years.”
Howard raised his scoring average each of his first three seasons with the Mad Ants while also getting more and more floor time. He averaged 20.6 points a game during the 2009-10 season, and was named to his first D-League All-Star team before that ill-timed training camp invite from Milwaukee.
With Milwaukee, Howard says he was playing extremely well and getting a lot of time with the second unit. But his fate was sealed when an unnamed Bucks player didn’t agree to a buyout.
“After being released, when you’re that close, it definitely hurts,” Howard says. “Having the dream job that you’ve always wanted, and just knowing that you played well enough to make it, and they wanted to keep you, but because of a situation out of your control â€” out of their control â€” they weren’t able too. So it definitely hurt, but at the same time I could either feel sorry for myself forever, give up and stop playing basketball, or pick myself up and keep working hard.”
The Chicago, Ill., native chose the latter, no surprise to his former Mad Ants teammate, Darnell Lazare.
“To be that close and the ball just don’t go your way for whatever reason I’m sure could be a difficult pill to swallow for him or anyone,” Lazare says. “But he’s been persistent and that hasn’t affected his approach. He’s still been plugging away and grindin’ as we say.”
Howard didn’t return directly to the Mad Ants after that brush with the NBA. Before going to camp, he helped lead the Marinos de AnzoÃ¡tequi to the Venezuelan LPB Finals. Howard next signed with the Adelaide 36ers of the underrated Australian League before an ankle injury led them to drop him with just a few games left in the season.
Howard would re-join the Mad Ants in March of 2011, but his brief sojourn to Australia and a detour on Israeli league powerhouse Barak Netanya allowed him to work even more on his game and overcome yet another challenge.
Gansey says Howard’s time overseas forced him to develop his outside game â€” something he’s worked on a lot since signing back on with the Mad Ants and settling in Fort Wayne with his wife and two daughters.
“When guys go overseas, they can’t get into the lane as much,” says Gansey. “They [European clubs] don’t have the defensive three-second rule that we have in the NBA and the D-League, so that middle lane is really clogged up overseas.
“Going over there and playing overseas definitely helped [Howard]. He’s so damn quick coming off ball screens, high angle screens, he had that whole lane open up. Now he’s getting to the free throw â€” he’s getting layups â€” because of that experience when he couldn’t get into the lane.”
During the 2012-13 season, Ron again made the D-League All-Star team, averaging 19.1 points a night and a career-high 4.7 assists in his new role as a big and explosive point guard. The Pacers rewarded him with a non-guaranteed contract to appear in training camp this October.
But after all he’s been through, all the grindin’ both in America and abroad, Ron Howard is back with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. They start their season tonight against the Texas Legends and Howard knows how close the next level is. He’s ready to shine.
What do you think?
Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.