By Tom Ballato
Matt Howard played four years at Butler under head coach Brad Stevens. During Stevens tenure at Butler, he brought four conference titles and five NCAA tournament appearances from 2007 to 2013. Stevens lead Butler to back to back NCAA Championship games in 2010 and 2011, where they were inches away from becoming champions. Brad Stevens along with Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, and company put Butler on the map and to the forefront of the college basketball landscape.
For those who don’t remember Matt Howard, he was Butler’s big man with crazy hair. That is just part of what he was at Butler. He played every game like it was his last. His winner’s mentality along with his ability to crash the boards and out hustle opponents was something special. He was a defender that didn’t backdown from anyone and set good screens to get his teammates open. His game improved each year at Butler and by his senior year, he had become a threat from beyond the arch.
Howard averaged 13.8 points per game during his time at Butler. He was named the Horizon Conference Player of the Year in 2009. He became a key part of Butler’s success and was a leader on and off the court. Howard made a name for himself in the NCAA tournament, out hustling his opponents and doing the dirty work. Following graduation, Howard went undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft. He has enjoyed a successful seven year career overseas which includes two Summer League stints with the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies. After suffering a big injury last season, Howard hasn’t felt good enough to get back into basketball and play again.
If this is the end of the line in Matt Howard’s playing career, we will all remember how much fun it was to watch him play at Butler. I’m sure he’ll pursue his next endeavor the same way he approached basketball, with a winners mentality.
When did you fall in love with the game of basketball?
MH: I always enjoyed playing with my siblings and neighborhood friends growing up. We played all kinds of other sports, but basketball is the one that I stuck with and played organized exclusively. It was the one sport I’d watch the local high school team play and then have to go play or shoot some shots afterward because I wanted to emulate all I’d seen. That’s where I probably realized what I loved.
While at Butler, the teams you played for put Butler on the map with back to back runs to the NCAA Tournament championship. What did you learn about yourself and the team during your time at Butler? You always played with this grind and grit, you might not have been the top ranked player on the court, but you outplayed and hustled them. Did that also give you an edge in your opinion?
MH: I think it is true that you play with an edge when you’re viewed as the little guy. We talked a lot about being the tougher team and wearing teams down at the some point in the game. We knew at the end of games if it was close, we were gonna find a way to win and that trust and chemistry is hard to break. Most games, it’s true, that I wasn’t the biggest/fastest/strongest, so I took pride in out competing opponents and being in good enough shape to maintain that for the full 40 minutes.
How was it playing under Coach Stevens and do you still have a relationship today?
MH: Yes, coach has been great through the years in being a willing mentor and voice when I’ve needed guidance or in the pursuit of getting better in my knowledge of the game. I was fortunate to have played for him and that coaching staff for four years at Butler. He is elite at both understanding his players and getting to know how they tick and he obviously is great from a tactics standpoint, especially making adjustments during the game. His calm demeanor and quiet confidence translated to us on the floor. Very few coaches can put all of this together, but he has. He is a constant learner and that’s part of how he’s able to stay ahead of the norm.
Where have you played since graduating? You’ve played in the top league in Israel. How would you describe your career so far and what have you’ve improved on your game since college?
MH: I played 7 years in Greece, France, Germany, and Israel. I’d say my career the first 3-4 years was similar to how I played in college my senior year. More at the 4 position and picking and popping with some 5 sprinkled in. (He played power forward and a little at the center position) After that I started to have injury issues and movement became more limited. As a result, I leaned on being a great screener, hustler, defender, and rebounder to make up for that. Like that I really had to be quicker making reads and decisions and I felt my reading of the game became better during this time.
Are you still close with your Butler teammates (Mack, Hayward, etc)?
MH: I’m not as close as I’d like to be. I enjoy watching both whenever I can. Both have beautiful families and are good guys. Shelvin’s wedding was a highlight of the summer and they rocked it!
What are your plans when your career ends? Do you want to coach?
MH: I think I’m in the midst of figuring that out right now. Trying to determine if I want to get into coaching or if the family is better suited in a more stable situation using my finance and MIS degrees. Hopefully I’ll know sooner rather than later.