To a young Matt Howard, the possibility of playing Division 1 college basketball was never a longshot.
Even as a freshman at A.C. Flora, Howard believed in his ability to reach the next level.
“I always had confidence that I could be a D1 player,” said Howard, a senior with a scholarship to Pennsylvania on tap.
When he started his high school career, older teammates encouraged him and pushed him to practice and play hard. In the classroom, Howard learned that perseverance would pay off.
“If you get a bad grade on a test, you study harder and next time your grade improves and that’s just like in the game — if you work harder, you will see improvement,” said Howard, who maintains a 4.65 grade point average.
Howard is putting up 34 points per game, leading the Falcons. He adds an average of seven rebounds and four steals per game.
Falcons coach Leon Brunson said Howard’s academic approach is key to his athletic success.
“He has a mindset that he doesn’t know everything, and he wants to learn,” Brunson said. “He’s receptive to instruction and whatever we can show him that will help improve his game.”
As it is, Howard’s game is pretty impressive.
With the Falcons losing several of their strong shooters with last season’s senior class, Howard said he expected to bear the brunt of the scoring duties for A.C. Flora this season.
Brunson praised Howard’s efficiency on the court.
“One thing he’s got that isn’t too common in this age is he’s got a mid-range game,” Brunson said. “He’ll dribble, but then he’ll pull up and shoot on guys. He has a knack right now for scoring.”
Howard said his shooting prowess comes from “putting in the extra work. Basically, basketball season never stops for me. I go right from high school to AAU to working out and then high school again.”
Howard embraces his role as a team leader.
“I just try to set an example of going hard all the time,” Howard said.
The Falcons’ coach said he has done well at that as well.
“He models what you want an athlete to do, and he’s doing an excellent job of leading these guys,” Brunson said.
Howard’s aim is to lead his team to the state Class 3A title, a goal he believes is attainable.
“I expect this kid to do great things in life,” Brunson said.