FORT WAYNE – Ron Howard remembers those early games of his NBA D-League life when he couldnt get a referees call to save it.
Those were the times when the eager, young Mad Ants guard would drive to the basket, only to get bounced like a pinball, hammered like a tack and whacked like an arcade game mole, yet no foul would be called.
When youre a rookie, officials dont know your name or who you are; they dont know your tendencies – and vice versa, Howard said. We dont know the officials when youre a rookie; you dont know their names, you dont know their tendencies; who you can talk to in certain ways and who you cant. I think its normal that on every level theres a sense of a pecking order.
But Howard is in his sixth season with the Mad Ants. As the teams all-time leader in games played, scoring and community goodwill, the Chicago native and former Valparaiso player has even been bestowed with the title of Mr. Mad Ant.
Because his style still relies on attacking the rim and drawing contact, the 6-foot-5, 185-pound Howard is finally getting the calls he didnt get as a rookie. The result is that hes leading the D-League in free throw attempts (89) and free throws made (78).
We want him attacking, Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. Our offensive sets are geared for him coming off the screens or with the ball, and dribble-drive situations.
Getting (to the free throw line) that many times, did we expect it? No. But hes just attacking the basket. Hes playing at a higher level than Ive ever seen him play in the five years Ive known him – at both ends of the floor.
Howard went 9 for 9 from the line in Wednesdays 112-101 loss in Canton. The game before that, in Maine, he was 11 of 11, and 10 of 12 the night before in Springfield, Mass. His fewest number of free throws attempted this season has been seven, of which he made them all; his most attempts were 18, and he made 14.
I saw a different aspect of my game I could change in being more aggressive, Howard said. Even when I dont have the ball – when Im cutting through the lane, I cut aggressively; and if my defender isnt prepared for that, hes probably going to foul me to stop me.
In 31 games with the Ants last season, Howard averaged six free throw attempts and 17.5 points per game. This season his free throws per game have nearly doubled and his points average has increased to a career-best 22.5.
Hes finishing so well, Ticknor said. Hes had a lot of conventional three-point plays getting to the rim. And lets face it, hes a veteran getting the calls, too.
Notes: The Pacers announced that rookie center Miles Plumlee has been assigned to the Mad Ants. Plumlee will be in uniform for the Mad Ants next two games, today against Maine and Saturday against Springfield, both at the Coliseum.