Howard Front and Center at NBA Finals
June 21, 2012
CHICAGO – There was a familiar face for DePaul basketball fans working as a studio analyst during the NBA Finals, providing his perspective to the game-changing exploits of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
After wrapping up the season as ESPN’s college basketball analyst, former Blue Demon standout Stephen Howard moved into the Fox Sports Oklahoma studio as an analyst for Oklahoma City’s “Thunder Live” show.
“It’s been really exciting working with the Thunder,” said Howard, who graduated in 1992 as the fifth-leading scorer and rebounder in DePaul history. “It’s a good organization, and this is at a time when Oklahoma City is one of the best teams in the NBA. The Thunder is a younger team with so much ahead of them.
“Working this Miami-Oklahoma City championship series brought back memories of my time in the NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz. There was this electricity in the arena and such a pressure atmosphere. Every single possession meant so much.
“I didn’t get into any of the games in the 1997 NBA Finals won by the Bulls and Michael Jordan. That was the series when Jordan passed to Steve Kerr to hit the winning shot. Being on the Jazz in those Finals was one of my most special basketball memories.
“Salt Lake City has always embraced the Jazz. It was so good to pay back the fans for their loyalty by making it to the NBA Finals.”
Howard teamed with players such as David Booth, Terry Davis, Stanley Brundy and Kevin Holland in leading the Blue Demons to three appearances in the NCAA tournament and one NIT berth from 1988 to 1992.
The 6-foot, 9-inch Howard averaged 17.1 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior and was the first DePaul basketball player to be named Academic All-American First Team. As a senior, he also won the Anson Mount Scholar Athlete Award presented to the top scholar-athlete in the country.
“The best memories I have of DePaul are the lifelong friendships I made while playing there,” Howard said. “I still have those to this day. I enjoyed the campus atmosphere, the rivalry with Notre Dame and playing teams like UCLA, Georgetown, North Carolina State and St. John’s.
“Back then we were a ground-breaking program as far as TV is concerned. Because of superstation WGN, we were on TV all the time. We were the only team in college basketball that had such an opportunity.
“More people recognize me from playing at DePaul than anything else I’ve done in my life. I was at a gas station in some small town far away from Chicago and somebody asked me if I had played for DePaul.
“It blew my mind.”
Two games in particular stand out in Howard’s mind. There was the 66-65 win over the Fighting Irish in March of 1992 when his technical free throw with two seconds left provided the margin of victory.
There was also the 125-93 victory over Loyola Marymount in January of that same year.
“It (Notre Dame) was my last game in front of our home crowd at Rosemont Horizon on Senior Day,” said Howard who scored a career-high 31 points on that occasion. “David Booth had fouled out and I had to pick up the offensive slack.
“A technical foul was called on Notre Dame’s coach, John MacLeod. In the huddle during the timeout, coach Joey Meyer asked who should take the free throws. Curtis Price shouted out: ‘Let Stephen take it.’
“I missed the first and made the second with hardly any time left.”
Price was right as Howard went on to become the school’s all-time leader in free throws.
There was no such drama in the “track meet” against Loyola Marymount.
“I remember the game we scored 125 points and beat Loyola Marymount,” Howard said. “We had some intense practices leading up to that game.
“Loyola Marymount didn’t worry about defense. All that team wanted to do was score more points. David Booth had 35 points for us, and I remember feeding him the ball. I had 20 points.”
In fact, three of the Blue Demons’ highest-scoring games came in the Howard/Booth era. They also beat American 120-85 and Loyola Marymount again 122-108.
After graduation, Howard spent six seasons in the NBA playing with Utah, Seattle, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Lakers. He also played overseas in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
As a college basketball expert who was also a studio analyst for Texas Longhorns games, what does Howard think about a Blue Demon basketball renaissance?
“DePaul just has to stay on the course it is on right now,” Howard said. “Oliver Purnell is a coach who has repeatedly turned programs around. Allow him to incorporate his style of play and bring in more athletes who excel in his system.
“If he brings in more talented recruits, there is no doubt DePaul will be among the top programs in the BIG EAST. The big thing DePaul has on its side is the chance to come to a great city like Chicago and play against all the top teams. You could become a part of DePaul’s outstanding tradition.
“Have patience. Led by Jeanne (Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto), this is such a genuine family-based organization. I know from a former student-athlete’s perspective that regardless of wins and losses, DePaul always produces terrific young men and women---and that’s the most important thing.”
Howard attributes his success to unrelenting sweat and sacrifice.
“I’ve had to work hard all my life,” he said. “My entire pro basketball career---both in the NBA and overseas---consisted of 15 one-year contracts. I lived in 12 different countries playing ball in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I played six seasons in the NBA on one-year contracts. My work at ESPN has all been with one-year contracts renewed each year.
“I’m the type of person that all I’ve known is hard work. I don’t know what would happen if something was handed to me. I’d probably fumble it away.
“Jeanne and coach Purnell are the same way. That’s why they are so successful, and that’s why DePaul’s basketball program is destined for success.”