CHENEY, Wash. — Brendan Howard is coming home.
The former Great Falls High basketball standout and two-time Gatorade player of the year confirmed to MTN Sports on Thursday that he will transfer to MSU Billings next year. Howard will play for new Yellowjackets’ coach Mick Durham, as well his assistant coach Bobby Howard, Brendan’s older brother.
Despite the family connection, Brendan Howard insists it was his decision to make the move.
“The thing is, my brother didn’t come to me at all. It was completely my decision,” he said. “But ever since I was younger and he just got his start in coaching, we’ve always talked about me playing for him. I thought that would be pretty cool. Things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to at Eastern Washington, but I have nothing but respect for the coaches and players here that helped me learn a lot. … MSU Billings, that’s a great opportunity for me. I’ll get to play for one of, probably the best coaches in Montana, history-wise, in Mick Durham. I’ll get to play for my brother, too. He’s a good coach. I think it will work out well and I think it will be a great fit. There’s a good group of guys playing there, too.”
Expectations followed Howard from Great Falls High to Cheney. During his career with the Bison, he was named Montana’s Mr. Basketball, a USA Today all-USA Montana boys basketball first-team selection and participated in the Montana-Wyoming all-star series. College Sports Madness named Howard the Big Sky Conference’s preseason freshman of the year in October, but he wound up redshirting his freshman season.
Howard, who recently changed his Twitter bio to read “MSUB Basketball #32″, says it was challenging not being on the court during games, particularly after his successful career in Montana’s Class AA. He became the first player in the classification’s history to cross the 2,000-point barrier, totaling 2,083 points, and was selected to multiple all-star appearances. But Eastern Washington and the Big Sky Conference offered new challenges, though beneficial.
“I thought coming in I was pretty mentally tough, but I learned pretty quickly I still had a lot to learn in that category. I think it’s helped me grow, get a thicker skin and be more mentally tough in different aspects, not just the playing aspect, but all the other things you have to do,” Howard said. “When life throws adversity at you, you have to be able to bounce back and zone all that stuff out to focus on the priorities at hand. The coaches here did a great job in teaching me that. It’s one of the best things I’ve learned.”
“The big thing I learned from (Eastern Washington senior) Bogdan (Bliznyuk) is keeping my composure,” Howard continued. “Bogdan, I obviously learned a lot from him. He was the Big Sky Conference player of the year. He helped me learn not to show facial expressions and to keep my composure, no matter how bad it gets, it’s up to you to see what you can get out of it. I think I learned a lot from this experience. It knocked me down a bit at times, but I think I got right back up with everything I’ve faced, too, so far. There were a lot of life lessons here.”
The lessons won’t end in Cheney, as Howard joins a program looking to refresh its rich tradition. The Yellowjackets saw former coach Jamie Stevens resign in March, paving way for Durham, the former Montana State Bobcats’ head coach, to make his return to the Treasure State. Durham has repeatedly said he hoped to recruit Montana athletes and Division I talents to the Magic City, and Howard fits the bill on each.
“I want to be able to get back and be able to play basketball again. I think I can go out and contribute right away, but again, I have to work for everything and it’s not going to be any easier than it was out here. The GNAC is still a very tough conference, I think, Division II-wise,” said Howard. “There are Division I players in the league, I think, that are playing D-II. I think the GNAC is a very tough conference and nothing is going to be easy. I have to come back, work hard and keep plugging away. Hopefully that will speak for itself and we’ll see what happens from there. Hopefully I play well enough to help our team win.”
The coaching staff won’t be the only familiar faces to Howard next season. Former Billings Skyview star Zharon Richmond played against Howard and the Bison in high school, while guard Kobe Terashima was an AAU teammate of Howard’s for nearly two years.
But fans might not recognize the game they grew accustomed to seeing from Howard. One of the most consistent post players in state history, Howard says he has stretched his game at Eastern Washington, making him a more well-rounded player.
“I think (fans) would notice that my 3-pointers, I’m just shooting a lot better, more confident. I think my ball-handling, too. Out here I was more of a 2-4 guy, not being inside all the time, trying to get points when we needed it back in high school. Things have changed a little bit,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I still work on my inside game a lot, but I think my ballhandling and me being able to shoot, especially 3-pointers and pull-ups, have improved a lot. I’ve worked on other moves besides my spin move.”
A double-double monster in high school — Howard averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in his career, averaging a double-double in each of his four seasons — Howard looks forward to the familiarity of the Treasure State and the proximity to family and friends. He admits to being “bummed” that he only caught a handful of games his dad, Bob Howard Sr., coached at Great Falls High last season.
And then there’s Bobby. The former MSU all-conference forward-turned assistant coach, both under Durham, has always been the closest to Brendan. But with Bobby at Alaska Fairbanks and Brendan in Cheney, it was challenging to keep their brother bond as strong as years past.
“I saw him at Christmas and then he would come home for the state tournament, then I would see him around the AAU circuit, then he would be home for the summer. For about six or seven months out of the year I wouldn’t see him,” Brendan said. “He’ll tell you, we’re each other’s best friends. We know how to balance that between coach and player. I respect him and I respect him just like I would any other coach. I’m ready to listen to him. He, my dad and my mom have taught me everything I know about working hard in basketball, and I still have a lot to learn, so that will be good.”
It seems only fitting that Durham schedule a Howard vs. Howard affair on Day 1 of practice next season.
“We aren’t supposed to talk about those,” laughed Brendan. “We’ve played one-on-one and we’ll just keep the outcomes of those games a secret between us. Bobby can talk to you about those, I’m not obligated to say one way or the other.”
Sounds like a player protecting his coach’s ego. Things are off to a good start already.