At this time last season, college basketball wasn’t fun for Haley Howard.
Sure, she was playing — and starting — but not enjoying the experience.
So after three years in the Butler Bulldogs’ program, she sought and found a change of scenery.
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Today, she couldn’t be happier.
A 5-foot-11 forward, Howard is in her first season with the University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team. She has played in all 13 games, starting six, and is a regular rotation player for the defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Skyhawks.
The Daily Journal’s Johnson County Player of the Year in 2010-11, Howard transferred to Division I Tennessee-Martin after starting 26 of 31 games last season for the Bulldogs. Citing issues with Butler’s program that went against her “moral compass,” she left the school and has found peace of mind — and quality playing time — with a team that last season went to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the past six years.
A standout at Whiteland Community High School, where she started four seasons, Howard received a waiver from the NCAA and did not have to sit out a year per standard transfer rules. She sat out her sophomore year at Butler with a stress fracture in her left femur and, as a result, has a fifth year of eligibility remaining.
Tucked in rural northwest Tennessee, the school of about 7,500 students is in the town of Martin, with a population just above 11,000 — a sharp contrast to Butler’s urban setting in Indianapolis.
What follows is a Q&A interview with Howard.
Q: How are you enjoying your new surroundings? Did it take long to get adjusted?
I love it in Martin. It’s a complete 180 compared to what I’m used to in the city, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s a small town, family-oriented atmosphere, and it’s been an overwhelmingly welcoming and positive change for me.
Q: What drew you to Tennessee-Martin?
The family atmosphere, definitely. I loved coach (Kevin McMillan) and the way he described the program and the small-town feel. I love the girls and our program’s supporters.
We have the chance to build relationships with everyone in the town personally, especially our donors and supporters.
Q: What are some of the challenges of transferring to a new school to join a new team, with new teammates and coaches?
The hardest part has been learning a new system. Coming from a program that I was a part of for three years, I was a leader, and I knew the program and what it took to be successful in the system. It has been hard learning a completely foreign system because it is much different than what I am used to.
I am coming in on my fourth year of college basketball but feeling like it is my first year all over again. It has definitely been a transition. The girls and coaches made the transition much easier.
I felt at home as soon as I got here this summer, and it has been that way since. I was able to get my waiver for immediate eligibility approved, so I did not have to sit out a year. I have a fifth year next year. It will be my fourth year of college basketball, and I will begin my MBA, as well.
Q: What was the reception like when you arrived? Were you immediately welcomed?
Yes. It was great. The team spent time together all day, every day. If we weren’t crowded in a dorm together watching movies over the summer, we were at the gym or at coach’s house, fishing and eating.
Q: What has the challenge been like balancing academics and athletics?
It hasn’t been bad at all. I finished the semester with straight A’s and am going to try my best to keep it that way.
Q: Do you have any sort of pregame ritual?
As a team we say the Lord’s Prayer in a circle with the whole team and staff.
Q: What, to date, has been your most memorable college moment?
Being able to experience traveling throughout the entire country and having the opportunity to compete in four different conferences in my college career, Horizon, A10, Big East and OVC.
Q: What is your major, and what are your career goals after college?
Marketing. The plan is to intern under an event planner in Galveston, Texas, this summer. I’d love to get a graduate assistant position and coach.
After I coach for a few years, I’d like to move into event planning and marketing in a sports atmosphere.