So what does Jeff Howard give Indiana now that the word is out that he will be a preferred walk-on next basketball season?
For starters, he’s 6-8 and 225 pounds. Yes, size does matter, especially for the often inside-challenged Hoosiers. At the minimum, Howard will help with practice. At the maximum, he’ll contribute defense and rebounding in games.
He’s also smart, with a reported 4.3 grade point average. He’s a high-energy guy who’s emerged as a late bloomer. He averaged 16.8 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a senior for Westfield High School just north of Indianapolis. That’s a huge step after an unimpressive AAU summer run.
Defense is Howard’s strength. He’s quick enough to defend guards, even very good guards such as Hamilton Southeastern’s Gary Harris. He’s smart enough to thrive in defensive rotations. He’s a good passer, but he needs to work on his outside shooting. He projects as a power forward in college.
Howard had enough limitations to prevent anyone offering him a major college scholarship, although Eastern Kentucky, a NCAA Division I mid-major program, did offer him one. So did Division II University of Indianapolis.
Still, Westfield coach Eric Rauch told the Indianapolis Star’s Ted Schultz that Howard had a “huge upside” and has a “great future head of him athletically and academically.”
Howard said he received scholarship offers from Eastern Kentucky (Div. I) and University of Indianapolis (Div. II). Rauch said several other D-II and D-III schools were interested.
In the end, Howard chose Indiana. A preferred walk-on means he won’t be on scholarship, but he doesn’t have to try out to make the team. It doesn’t guarantee him any playing time, but it does give him a chance to earn some.
Suddenly IU has plenty of inside depth, and while none of it reminds anyone of, say, Dwight Howard, there is potential with veterans Christian Watford (6-9, 220 pounds), Tom Pritchard (6-9, 248), Bobby Capobianco (6-9, 238), Derek Elston (6-9, 220) and Bawa Muniru (6-11, 242). Howard will join 7-1 junior college transfer Guy-Marc Michel to provide the kind of inside depth the Hoosiers lacked in coach Tom Crean’s first two seasons.
Of course, that’s assuming Muniru actually plays next season, and that Michel and Howard are ready to contribute right away.
Yes, we know the perils of assuming, but work with us here.
Watford is an All-Big Ten caliber guy in potential. If Elston learns to play consistent defense, he will be a force. Capobianco is a big body with a big heart that should make him a significant contributor. Pritchard was erratic last year and didn’t show the sophomore improvement expected after a solid freshman season. Still, he has the potential to be a double-figure scorer along with 4 to 5 rebounds a game
There’s plenty for Crean to work with and if the players all buy into his approach, if they play with passion and awareness, winning will come. Yes, that’s easy to say in late May, but the Hoosiers will get a chance to start proving it come November.