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Mad Ants' Ron Howard ready for NBA, but will he get The Call?

2014-01-25T17:00:00Z 2014-03-25T19:39:13Z Mad Ants' Ron Howard ready for NBA, but will he get The Call?Al Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
January 25, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

FORT WAYNE | Ron Howard and wife Reesha don't have cell phones Duct-taped to their wrists, anxiously awaiting "The Call" or a life-changing text.

They pray daily that it happens, and soon, but they have busy lives, you know, with No. 1 priority being adorable daughters Chloe, 7, and 3-year-old Peyton.

Next is basketball. Lots of basketball.

Ron, 31, is the face of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants' franchise in the NBA Development League.

This is his seventh season as the only player to have been on every Mad Ants team since the franchise began in 2007. He is referred to as "Mr. Mad Ant" and is the hands-down crowd favorite at home games.

Reesha attends every game at the cavernous Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum, sits among the blue-collar fans, is usually the last one to leave the building with her husband and their little girls, and is affectionately called "Mrs. Mad Ant" by fans young and old.

The Howards love Fort Wayne's small-town feel, love the caring nature of its people, love giving back with their Game Day Sports Camp each summer and Christmas toy party for the needy — all while Ron's dream continues to burn like a branding iron.

He wants desperately to play in the NBA.

The ex-Valparaiso University star has come close in training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks (2008), New York Knicks (2009) and Pacers (2013) through their exhibition seasons.

Indiana really liked Howard, still keeps in touch, but it had three point guards at the time.

At 6-foot-5, he is the complete player with one knock against him according to scouts: He doesn't shoot the 3.

The personable Howard counters by saying his primary role as a point guard is to attack, draw fouls, distribute the ball and shoot the mid-range jumper when open.

In 24 games through Friday night, he is 2-of-8 from downtown while leading the Ants in scoring at 23 points per game.

It should be noted during the 2009-10 season, Howard was 42-of-109 from deep, almost 40 percent.

"I don't put myself on a timetable," he said. "I signed with the Indiana Pacers this offseason, had a very good camp and was really close to making the roster.

"I treat my body right. I eat right. I do the right things. I work hard to stay in shape, continue to get better, and that's what I've been doing every single year."

Howard learned all about commitment and focus while playing for Tom Crean at Marquette, then Homer, Scott and Bryce Drew at Valparaiso.

There are 16 D-League teams and more than 200 players all scrapping, clawing, competing for an NBA look-see. It takes luck, good timing, and game.

This D-League season, there have been 16 call-ups involving 15 players, most of them given 10-day contracts to show what they can do while the guy they replace recovers from injury.

Howard has also played briefly in Mexico, Holland, Venezuela, Israel, Australia and China.

The Pacers, Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando Magic all are NBA affiliates of the Mad Ants, though a D-League player can be signed by any team.

Coach still betting on his guy

"So much of today's game is either you get a layup or you get a 3," said Mad Ants' coach and former Celtic Conner Henry. "That's the mentality of most (NBA) coaches, most offensive systems. I don't completely buy into that.

"When I watch the Pacers play, they do not shoot a high number of 3-point shots. They shoot a lot of mid-range distant shots ... the kind of shots Ron is probably the best at in the whole D-League."

Howard is close to a 50 percent career shooter.

"Is he the type of player who should be in the NBA? I truly believe so," Henry said. "It just takes one door to open, one coach to evaluate him over a lengthy period of time — not just 10 days."

Is Howard too old at 31?

"Ron can run all day. He's got a great basketball body," Conner said.

Mr. Mad Ant's better half

Reesha met Ron Howard their freshman year at Whitney Young High School on Chicago's tough south side.

They've been an unbeatable team ever since. Reesha is a pillar of strength who says she'd be happy for her man if he wanted to quit the game and be a garbage collector.

"I thank my wife all the time for the support she gives me, for the peace of mind she gives me when I'm on the road for six days and how well she takes care of our daughters," Ron said. "I don't have to worry about anything."

That's what basketball wives do, says Reesha.

"We are regular people who work for everything we get and make the best of it," she added. "My desires in life are simple and as long as (Ron) is happy, I'm happy."

The Howards live in a modest prefab home which the Mad Ants helped them find on the campus of Fort Wayne Concordia Theological Seminary. They are the only non-students there but have been welcomed with open arms by school administrators.

With much of their personal belongings still unpacked and storage space at a premium, Ron and Reesha get by with the bare necessities and a smile.

They have a roof over their heads and food on the table. There is no reason to complain.

Many in the Mad Ants' organization believe Howard's best chance for an NBA call-up is with the Pacers, who are non-committal on the subject.

But they really do like the perennial MVP candidate who holds 12 Mad Ants' franchise records.

The Pacers sent a truckload of toys to the Howards' Christmas needy party. And when Chloe had her 7th birthday while Ron was in training camp, the team rented out the Indianapolis Zoo for her party.

"I got to pet a dolphin!" she squealed with delight.

Meanwhile, life goes on for Ron, Reesha, Chloe and Peyton. It's a very good one when you think about it.

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