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The only thing that could make Bailey Howard’s basketball success more inspiring is if the Franklin College senior guard grew up shooting hoops on a goal attached to a southern Indiana barn.
Oh, wait. He did.
Call Norman Rockwell and Norman Dale. Howard is the latest in a string of sharpshooting Hoosier hoopsters adding to Indiana’s roundball legacy.
A 45-point outburst against Bluffton this month served notice that Howard had elevated his game to an elite level.
“Most guys that put up 45 points have a lot of collateral damage,” coach Kerry Prather said, while noting that Howard missed only five shots in that 82-72 win. “Bailey has just figured out how to be efficient.”
That efficiency produced a groove that night that Howard and his teammates hope can propel the Grizzlies to a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title.
“I hit a couple of shoots early,” said Howard, whose output was the third-highest in conference history. “I am one of those players where if the ball goes in early I keep shooting, and it feels good. They just kept going in. I got screens up top and came off that.”
Name: Bailey Howard
Major: Health science and biology
Weight: 185 pounds
High school: Brown County
Family: Parents, Bill and Lynn; brother, Billy
Lately, Howard has been on fire.
The Brown County High School grad could always shoot, but he has parlayed that sweet stroke into a versatile game that puts up points in a number of ways.
“He’s only 5-10, but he’s really strong, and he’s got a very quick first step,” Prather said. “He has learned to finish against bigger guys. He does present a dilemma. He can shoot it; he can drive it. He’s just a load to defend.”
That load is putting up impressive numbers. Howard leads the HCAC in scoring at 25.1 points a game. He is hitting more than 52 percent of his 3-point attempts for the Grizzlies, who are 5-4 overall and 2-1 in the HCAC on the young season.
As confident as Howard has become in that jump shot, he is equally sure that Franklin is on the cusp of something special this season.
“The guys really play together, and this team’s got something different than others,” he said. “We just play better together.”
Howard knows his role is not just as a scorer but as a senior leader.
“I need to score, play team defense and just help my team. I am not the best vocal leader, but I need to lead by example,” he said.
The example Howard sets is with his dedication, Prather said.
“The most important thing is the connection between individual personal time in the gym and skill development,” the coach said. “Bailey was a really good shooter when he came here, but the difference between a good shooter and a great shooter is exclusively the investment of personal time to get from point A to point B. Bailey just lives in the gym.”
Howard said it took him a year at college to realize the sacrifice it takes to be a leader on a college court.
“I’ve always been able to shoot but never consistently and at a high percentage,” said the guard named to the D3Hoops.com team of the week following the Bluffton game. “That all comes from going to the gym. After freshman year, I told myself I have got to get in the gym every day for at least an hour, get on the gun and just shoot. That’s what I have been doing. It has definitely paid off.”
Paid off, but not always understood by players making the transition from high school.
“My biggest challenge with him coming in was to try to figure out how to recalibrate his high school expectations and approach to the game up to college,” Prather said. “That’s a trial-and-error proposition. We talked a lot about shot selection. He came out of a situation where a light could not get more green. My goal was for him to get that same point in college. The criteria are just different.”
The coach knew he had a quality player, one who would represent the college well on and off the court.
“In terms of skill sets, you could have lifted Bailey out of Brown County and put him in a big school program, and he still would have been really good,” Prather said. “The fact that he could score was the first thing that caught our eye. Beyond that, it was the recommendation of coach (Roger Fleetwood) and a number of people about what a great quality person he is.”
Fleetwood and Bailey’s father Bill, himself a former college basketball player, played key roles in directing Howard to basketball, who grew up in the Nashville home of his grandfather.
A basketball goal on the side of the family barn should have been enough to point the younger to pursue the game, but he credits Fleetwood, the state’s ninth-winningest active coach, with lighting the fire.
From there, Prather saw the potential and got Howard to buy into the effort needed to make it happen.
“Coach has really pushed me,” said the health science and biology major, who hopes to become a medical devices salesman. “He realized what strengths I had as a shooter and being strong and quick. He told me what I need to do to get better. He told me confidence comes from getting in the gym. I took that and ran with it.”
Ran with it and set the standard for other Grizzlies to follow, his coach said.
“He become the poster boy for us to hold up to other players and talk about the distance between freshman year and sophomore year and so on,” Prather said. “He is a gym rat. Every great player we have had has followed that same formula. They sacrifice their personal time and spend it in the gym.”
In doing so, Howard has earned more from his coach than just the “green light” to fire from long distance, something Prather told him he could do when shooting 40 percent consistently.
“He has far exceeded expectations. He is just a quality young man from a quality family,” Prather said of Howard, whose father is a Bloomington real estate agent and mother is a dental hygienist.
“He’s just a great kid,” the Franklin College coach added. “Everybody likes him. He never has a negative thing to say about anything.”
Howard is a great kid who grew into a great shooter with discipline and dedication. Like so many Hoosiers before him in legend and in lore, it all started with a kid firing hoops at a goal on the side of a southern Indiana barn.