By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Jay Howard played his 107th career game for The Catholic University of America on Saturday's Senior Day. His mom, Jacki Clement, has attended every one.
She even made it to South Bend, Ind., to see the Cardinals play a 2016 exhibition game against Notre Dame. She is often accompanied by her mother, Juanita Fauntleroy, and other family members. Howard appreciates his loved ones' presence.
"It's been like that my whole life," Howard said. "My mom's always so supportive. She's like my biggest supporter, and my biggest critic. It's just an amazing feeling, her coming to every game."
Fortunately for Howard and his teammates, there's been little to criticize since he arrived on campus from Pennsauken, N.J., and Paul VI High School in 2014. On Feb. 3, he became just the third player in program history to score more than 2,000 points. He pumped in 34 points Wednesday in a 74-72 victory over Elizabethtown and added another 19 versus Moravian to put his career total at 2,105.
Since the Cardinals began fielding a team in 1910, only two other players, Bob Adrion (2,289 points) and Glenn Kolonics (2,190), have scored more points. They were All-Americans in the 1970s.
"It clearly puts Jay in rare air," Catholic Coach Steve Howes said. "It makes me so appreciative that I got to coach a player of such magnitude and see his game grow and develop over the four years.
"He's a remarkable player. A once-in-a-generation kind of talent."
Adrion entertained a contract offer to play football for the Atlanta Falcons. Kolonics played professionally in Argentina and for the Harlem Globetrotters' travel opponent, the Washington Generals.
Howard would like to continue his career overseas or in the NBA G League like his former college teammate, point guard Bryson Fonville '17. Howard leads the Landmark Conference in scoring (23.8 points per game), is the leading candidate for league Player of the Year and will likely be named an All-American.
"It was a great opportunity playing with them all four years," Howard said. "They're tremendous teammates, always supporting me whether they get in a game or not. It goes to show what high-level-character guys they are."
Saturday's contest against then-first-place Moravian (18-6, 10-3 Landmark) was critical to the Cardinals (14-10, 8-5) advancing to the four-team conference playoffs. Win and they were in. Lose and they would need help.
"We've just got to keep fighting," Howard said. "We're still alive. We control our own destiny." (Howard went on to assist on the game-winning basket to send himself and the Cardinals to a fourth-straight conference tournament).
The Cards stayed in the hunt for a playoff berth by winning at Scranton (Pa.) on Feb. 10, 81-79. Catholic overcame a 13-point halftime deficit to win in an arena where it usually leaves on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Howard scored 21 of his 32 points in the second half, including the game-winning free throws with two seconds remaining.
"Hitting two free throws in that environment against our biggest rival in their gym," he said, "is definitely a memorable experience."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Howard has tallied 30 or more points six times this season. His career high of 36 points came in a 76-75 loss to Drew on Feb. 3. It was one of 12 times this season he played a full 40 minutes.
He's making a club-leading 55.3 percent of his shots and is second on the squad in rebounding average (6.7 rpg). He's third in assists (57) and second in steals (28). And despite averaging a team-high 36.5 minutes per game, he hasn't fouled out of any game.
Despite all of his individual accomplishments, Howard is first and foremost a team player.
"Sometimes you just wish he would take over instead of trying to get everyone involved," Howes said. "But he just wants to be the best teammate he can."
A Big-Time Talent
Howard originally wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., but didn't score high enough on the SATs. He was then offered scholarships by Division II Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. Other D-1 schools that showed interest in him were Delaware, James Madison and Bucknell. Catholic was the only Division III school to recruit him.
Howard gave a preview of things to come in his college debut (Nov. 15, 2014) when he scored a game-high 21 points at Division I Davidson. The game was significant for a more important reason: It was the first time the Cardinals ever started five African-Americans.
Two years later, in an exhibition game at Notre Dame, Howard recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards. It came against a Fighting Irish squad that advanced to the Elite Eight the year before.
Following the game, Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey compared Howard to former Irish star Luke Harangody. The three-time All-American played three years in the NBA and now plays in Germany.
"Jay's really a gifted guy," Brey said. "He had a 6-10 guy standing behind him the whole game, but he's got great strength. He's really a tough matchup at [the Division III] level. I love his strength and steadiness. I mean, he's an inside-the-arc guy who can put some numbers on the board.
"We had a guy by the name of Harangody. I would compare him to Luke. He could be a Harangody at that level. He's just really hard to deal with. I like that he can pass it, too."
Howard wasn't done showing he can compete favorably with any team in the country. Playing at Maryland this season, the three-time Landmark Conference First-Team honoree led all scorers with 20 points.
Terrapin Coach Mark Turgeon praised Howard's performance in Maryland's 76-59 victory.
"Jay is a really good player. He came into our game dialed in and ready to play," Turgeon said. "He's a good scorer who can make shots in a variety of ways. He makes it challenging to guard. As a staff, we came away very impressed with him and how well he was prepared to play against us.
"Jay is worthy of national recognition."
Terrapin guard Anthony Cowan, who tallied a team-high 19 points, also spoke highly of Howard.
"He's a very aggressive player," Cowan said. "He seemed like he was always around the basket. He's a good one-on-one player. So, in the second half, we really tried to find a way to limit his scoring."
A 'Humble Superstar'
Howard was not a very good free-throw shooter as a freshman, hitting just 59.5 percent. But through a lot of practice shooting under game conditions – after running up and down the court – he improved each season. He made 69.7 percent his sophomore year, then 71.9 as a junior, and is now shooting at a 75.6 percent clip. More than 600 of his points have come from the charity stripe.
"It's a testament to his coachability and his desire to improve," Howes said. "Each spring, before he'd leave for the summer, I'd talk to him about things to work on. And Jay always comes back with those boxes checked."
Howard paced the Cards in scoring (20.1 ppg) in 2015-16 and gave the club a dynamic inside presence to complement Fonville's outside acrobatics. The pair, along with twins Kevin and Kyle Phanord, guided the Cardinals to the Landmark Conference championship and the NCAA Tournament.
Howard calls it the biggest thrill of his college career.
"It was a tremendous feeling going out there and winning with those guys," he said. "Winning that game and cutting down the nets was a great experience. I still have my piece of the net. Hopefully, we can get back there this year."
Away from the court, Howard carries a 2.9 GPA in business management and is on pace to graduate in the spring. Whenever his playing career ends, he is interested in joining the Navy and serving his country. He is soft-spoken, brutally honest and beloved by his teammates and coaching staff.
"Jay is the most humble superstar I have ever coached," Howes said. "At times, I wish he had a meaner streak. He's a fierce competitor, but he wants to be a great teammate, too. I've been really fortunate to coach him and watch him grow as a young man."
If Howard goes pro next season, his mom's string of attending each of his games might end. It would be difficult for her to follow him around the country or wherever he's playing overseas. However, don't count her out.
"She's always talking about that, if I play overseas, she's going to try to make every game," he said. "But we always joke around and say there's no possible way she can come to every one.
"She's definitely going to support me wherever I go. I know that."
Chris McManes is a media consultant to the Catholic University men's basketball team.
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