Any fan of college basketball can easily recall the historical run by the Butler University in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, where the Bulldogs fell just short winning the game over heavily-favored Duke for the National Championship. Even with the narrow defeat in the championship game, Butler leaped to the forefront of the college basketball world by becoming the smallest school to play for the National Championship since 1985. Butler would proceed to go to back-to-back championship appearances, and recently joined the Big East.
Butler players and fans will agree that at the heart of each of those National Championship runs was Matt Howard. The 6’8 center for Butler was known for his incredible motor and hustle that set the tone for Bulldogs on each end of the floor. Without Matt’s passion and leadership he played with, Butler may have never reached the heights they did.
Since graduating from Butler, Matt has had a successful career overseas in several different leagues, including recently signing a contract this summer with Hapol Tel Aviv in Israel.
I recently was able to talk to Matt about his time about playing professionally and the experiences he’s had on and off the court, his time at Butler, and his love for the great game of basketball. Check it out!
Catching Up With Matt Howard
Bryce Fields: Heading into your 7th professional season overseas, could you describe your journey so far, as well what you are looking forward to this season?
Matt Howard: Many guys will say it’s hard to believe that it’s been that long, but for me it has felt like 6 strong years. Some years go faster than others or some are better than others. Incredibly each season has lasted a little longer than the one before or at least as long with the last two going to the last possible game of the playoffs. I will say I feel very blessed and fortunate to have had the opportunity to do this for 6+ years. The places I’ve been able to see and travel to are things I really appreciate. More than anything is the people I’ve met and become good friends with.
This season is a little unique that it’s only the 2nd time that I won’t be with a team that plays in a competition outside of their country. Players like those places because playing 2x a week is better than practicing all week to play 1 game. The main reason I opted to come here (Tel-Aviv), and what I’m looking forward to, is because the one game a week gives my body a better chance to recover and have a strong season. In addition it’s a great place for a family like ours.
BF: While playing overseas, have you gotten to travel around and see some of the great places each country has to offer?
MH: I’ve always loved traveling and exploring new places. And since my wife has joined me overseas that took it to a new level. As you may know, enjoying an experience with someone else makes it more interesting and gratifying. We have been all over France and Germany since that’s where I’ve played with trips to London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Sicily, Northern Italy and Switzerland. She also came to Athens with me and now we are in Israel. The one thing that has always stuck with me is how our country’s “European-based history” is 300-350 years old and over here you’re talking about thousand(s) of years.
What I can say is that as you see all these people/cultures, you get an appreciation for how we are all alike and yet so different as well. Mostly an insight into how different priorities and lifestyles can be normal and have value in their own ways. I’ve learned a lot from talking to people in most of these places and feel I’ve gained so much from them.
BF: We always hear about how much faster the game is played at the professional level, do you believe that to be true? And is there any other aspect of the game that you had to adjust to transitioning from college to the pros?
MH: The speed is at another level professionally. Basically you’re taking the next best guys who can’t make the NBA or stay and play in the D-league and that’s who is filling the rosters of the overseas leagues. Like all professional leagues that I know of, the clock is 24 seconds. Plays have to be quick, precise, or you need a great creator to find options. In any case, this speed is an adjustment for most collegiate players coming overseas.
The next biggest thing is the responsibilities that come with being a professional. In college, most places create an environment where you’re “coddled” (comparatively) and not under intense pressure to perform. Once you’re being paid, there is an expectation to perform at a high level or risk being fired. Many countries overseas don’t have strict rules or consequences for teams that don’t pay or pay on time. Add that into a different culture, language, and food and you have a situation where it takes some thick skin to survive. Of course winning makes all this easier and less of a problem, but this isn’t easily controlled.
BF: Back in your days at Butler, you and your teammates reached heights no one could have imagined possible, including reaching the NCAA National Championship game. How awesome was that?
MH: It’s March Madness because the most madness happens in March but as a player and a group, you always have this dream and ambition to finish the season with a win in April. I remember, as ridiculous as many might think it sounds, talking about making that a serious goal of ours before that 2009-2010 season. At the time the program had been to a couple Sweet 16s and we were returning our whole team from the season before. Coach built us as a defensive team first and that was critical to us going undefeated through the Horizon League and to the final game. Only one team scored 60 points against us in the tourney. Through the tourney that was our magic number and unfortunately we gave that up in the final. I think from the round of 32 on to the final we trailed under 4 minutes to go in each game, but our defense always got the job done.
The second year was more of a surprise. We had lost a lot and were being discussed as a team who might not make the tourney without a conference title. Fortunately that team really came together and guys started to excel in their roles. It’s easy to say we were pretty well coached. Looking back, it’s hard to accept losing 2 times in the final but it was a real joy to compete with those guys and have a chance on Monday night. There is nothing like playing in a 70k seat stadium. Doing that in your hometown was really a great experience!
BF: Spending the majority of your life and career playing in the basketball crazy state of Indiana, at Butler and before at Connersville HS (my rival high school), how did Indiana basketball shape your love of basketball to this day?
MH: It’s interesting that this Fall, seeing the ceremony regarding Peyton Manning and the people discussing how he made Indiana a state that loves football, sheds light on how dominant basketball had been. I don’t remember the best or glory days, but I think the arenas/gyms/field-houses around the state and our area show the impact and importance of the game. There is always a goal in the neighborhood or attached to a barn or shed nearby. There were always games going on when I was growing up, if not in the neighborhood, then at the park, or if neither was possible, then one, imaginary game in my head.
The imitations started with Reggie and other NBA players I liked and then would often morph into mimicking the local HS games, often after the games, when the emotion and excitement was still running high. Even so, I was lucky to be the tallest of my family and this naturally pulled me to the game. I started as a 5th grader playing organized ball and have played close to 1,000 official games since. No doubt the most and best of the games were played in the Hoosier state. As you know there is nothing quite like the opening night game at Spartan Bowl every year with the sights, sounds, and smells.
Yes I’m biased, but Hinkle is the best place there is to play college ball, especially for a day game. There is just some special aura about the place when the sun is shining in. I was lucky to call these two home for 8 years!
The Real Ball Insider family and myself would like to thank Matt for giving us the opportunity to sit down and talk to him, as well as wish him good luck in his upcoming season!