Mo Howard stared across the court with a wry smile. His son’s team was winning against his son’s team. But of course, it was bound to turn out that way for the former Maryland great.
Mo’s son Ky had nine assists in the game’s first 23 minutes. His team, Michigan-killer NJIT, was leading No. 7 Villanova in its own building by seven points. Ky was letting his brother, Villanova assistant Ashley, know what was up.
“First half when we went on a few runs and there was a stoppage in play, I would definitely look over at him and hit him with a smirk,” Ky said after the game in the Highlander’s locker room.
The reality that is unbeaten Villanova arrived right after that lead and, before anybody could type “upset,” the Wildcats scored 20 of the next 23 points on the way to a 92-67 win.
Mo was the sophomore shooting guard on arguably the most talented team in Maryland history, the 1973-74 Terps who lost an epic ACC championship game to North Carolina State, 103-100 in overtime and were no worse than the third-best team in the country but did not play in the NCAA Tournament. That team was why they changed the rules to allow more than one team from a conference in the tournament.
Mo was a great jump shooter who rarely missed from the corner. Later in his Maryland career, he was part of a three-guard lineup with John Lucas and Brad Davis that ran one of the best fastbreaks in college basketball history.
His sons were and are point guards. Ashley had 178 assists in two seasons at Drexel but had to give up the game due to a heart condition. Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint immediately took him on as a student assistant. He went from there to La Salle as an assistant, then back to Drexel and one season at Xavier before coming to Villanova before last season.
“You twist your body like that, you won’t make a shot in the game,” Ashley told his brother during pregame warmups.
“We talk trash, but I want to see him do well,” Ashley said before the game. “He got his upset for the year. I was more thrilled than anybody to see him get that win. We want to win the game. … Hopefully, my brother can get some buckets and keep his average.”
Ky, now a junior, went into the Villanova game averaging 13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 56.3 percent. He had four points and 11 assists against the Wildcats. He threw perfectly timed passes for back-door layups, lobs leading to scores and passes right in the shooting pocket for threes.
Mo sat behind the NJIT bench and had his priorities in order.
“I will be rooting for Howards,” he said a few days before the game. “That way, I won’t go home disappointed. I’m on the Howard team. That’s the team I’m supporting. That’s my team.”
It is a great team.
Ashley is one of the bright young assistants in the game and Ky has found a home in Newark, New Jersey at a school that is starting to gain basketball notoriety, the nation’s only independent, a program desperately looking for a league.
“You have no idea what this has done for him because he’s had to come the farthest,” Mo said of Ky. “Coming out of [high school], being a two-time all-state player, a three-time all-Friends League player and nobody would even offer him a chance to walk on. He was in that New England prep league. There must be six or seven guys he played against who are in the NBA now. He made the all-league team up there.”
And he got no offers.
|KY HOWARD NJIT STATS|
“Even after the season, I would sit in my room and wonder if I was good enough for any of the schools,” Ky said. “I had some lows there where I just gave up and I quit. I had close friends that kept me positive.”
Then, NJIT coach Jim Engles invited him down for a visit and offered him a scholarship on the spot.
When Ky was home recently, he hung out at his high school and told his dad: “You can’t believe how happy I am today.”
“If you are a parent, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Mo said.
And Ky was still smiling even though his team lost by 25. NJIT shot an incredible 8-for-13 from the arc in the first half and led, 48-41, early in the second.
“I asked someone to take a picture of the scoreboard and put it on Instagram,” Engles said.
Villanova (12-0) got six players in double figures, shot 54.2 percent and got to the foul line 44 times. Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono led the team with 17 and 16, respectively. Josh Hart started for Darrun Hilliard, who got a concussion in Saturday’s overtime win against Syracuse.
According to Villanova coach Jay Wright, Hilliard will practice Saturday when the team returns from Christmas break. He will play in the Big East opener against Butler on Dec. 31.
Now, all Howards can just root for all Howards with no reservations. NJIT is 5-8 and Villanova is unbeaten.
And Mo Howard can smile watching one son play and the other coach.
When few believed in Ky, he believed. And, with Villanova, seeing is believing.