ANDERSON — On Tuesday, newly hired Caston High School head basketball coach JR Howell took 14 of his potential players to the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.
Caston’s new coach had officially taken the position just two weeks prior, and though he and his squad haven’t had time to become a team worthy of a place inside the Hall of Fame yet, Howell brings a famed high school basketball family tradition to his new post.
Back in 2005, Howell, alongside his father, Lapel head basketball coach Jimmie Howell, were crowned state basketball champions during JR’s junior year. His dad has since gone on to rack up 507 Indiana high school basketball victories, ranking eighth among active coaches and 25th all-time.
JR, on the other hand, has taken his basketball talents to several teams, playing in college on an athletic scholarship at Marian University from 2006-09, ranking first all-time for the Knights in free throw percentage (91 percent) and fifth all-time in 3-point field goal percentage (38.3 percent).
While in college, Howell served one season as a junior varsity head coach at Center Grove High School. From there, he went on to coach as an assistant for one season each at Anderson University and Northwood University, a Division II program in Michigan.
Although Howell had his parents convinced that he was hoping to work his way up the college ranks, last winter, he got the itch to inquire about openings at the high school level, and after a few months of searching, Caston became the program that stood out.
“I kinda realized that my passion was to work with younger kids and build a basketball program, and that’s why I made the move,” he said. “I feel it’s a great move for me and a great fit with the community and school at Caston.”
Caston has averaged 15 wins per season over the past three years.
At 25, Howell comes to his new job a young prospect not far removed from the high school game. Although this is his first head coaching position, Howell said he feels like his recent experience on the court in high school will allow him to better connect with his players, motivate them easier and hopefully taste success.
“I get the day-to-day (routine); you go to school for seven hours and then practice for two or three hours,” he said. “I’ll take that experience of how I felt when working my way to planning for after practice and after games and for team bonding time.”
Howell was hired with just 12 days remaining during the period where coaches could hold practice and workout sessions with their players over the summer, the final time before November that teams could prepare for the upcoming season.
The new head coach stepped right in, making the necessary contacts to get double-digit turnouts for several days during the seven days he met with the Caston players.
Howell said he knows this time during the summer is so crucial for development because once fall rolls around, 10 of the 14 boys he’s had the chance to meet will be involved with fall sports and unable to devote as much time to basketball.
But it’s something Howell embraces, having been a two-sport athlete in high school himself.
“I encourage them to play multiple sports and not just focus on one, especially at a small school,” Howell said. “That’s very common, and obviously Caston is very similar to Lapel in that regard. With a small school, you need your athletes to play multiple sports.”
Howell said he’s enjoyed meeting and getting to know not just his future players that will fill up his roster come November, but the entire community surrounding the program. Several families have invited him over for dinner since his hiring, and Tuesday after the tour of the Hall of Fame, he took the boys to his parents’ house for an evening of playing cornhole and cooking out.
His dad said he was proud that his son had taken to his own profession and had decided to make it his own, especially so close to home.
“I know he’s put in a lot of time the past three years in basketball and throughout his life as a player trying to learn the game and understand the game,” Jimmie said. “He’s always been a student of the game, wanting to know more about it when he watches games on TV and goes to other games and tries to pay attention to what the other coaches are doing and trying to find something he might be able to incorporate in his philosophy.”
In just a few weeks, Howell said the reality of being a head coach, with the responsibilities of setting up youth camps and community events will begin to kick in once school and his job as a health and physical education teach commence. For now, though, he’s just worried about preparing his players to continue their streak of success and camaraderie they had come to know before Howell came on board.
“We’re going to keep practicing and working hard to keep being successful, and that’s our number one goal,” Howell said. “I won’t judge it on wins and losses. I just want to go out there and do what we do – that’ll be a phrase, do what we do – and just play hard and make it enjoyable for the kids and for the fans as well.”