Approximately three percent of male and female basketball players move on from high school and play in college, and only one percent of those players go professional. But, one Keene State alumnus beat those odds.
Nate Howard recently graduated from Keene State College in May 2016 and signed with the Titans from Kitchener, Ontario, at the end of August.
Howard started playing basketball when he was just four years old and has yet to stop.
Howard always wanted to play professionally, but didn’t actually think he would make it. “I always had thought about playing professional basketball, but I never really thought it would happen, so it is amazing and exciting to finally be playing professionally,” Howard said.
Head basketball coach Ryan Cain coached Howard throughout his senior year. “I think he knew he had an opportunity to play professionally because of his size and his athleticism. You know there’s not many guys at any level that has the skill set that he has with that kind of size and athleticism,” Cain said.
He continued, “The potential was there, I didn’t know definitively whether he wanted to do it or not, but once he heard he had the option to do it he jumped on it.”
KSC senior, power forward and center Rodney Jean-Marie said that Howard’s work ethic when it comes to basketball is top-notch. “Nate always works really hard on and off the court,” Jean-Marie said.
“His presence is huge,” Jean-Marie said. “He’s seven feet tall and other teams were just afraid to go hard in the paint and score because you have such a big body there. As a teammate, if you were guarding someone and they were to drive by you, you don’t have to worry about that because Nate is right there.”
Cain and Jean-Marie agreed that Howard was a lead-by-example type of guy. “Nate is a very quiet young man….You know he really set the tone with the hustle and the way he played on the court. Every once in awhile he would step up and say something during practice or a game, but for the most part, his leadership was by example,” Cain said.
Jean-Marie agreed, “As a player, he’s very composed and quiet. If he gets a dunk going, don’t mess with him and he’ll amp up the team. When he gets hyped, the team gets hyped because he is so quiet, but if he’s energetic he’ll really get the team going.”
Although Cain started coaching at Keene State two years ago, he was able to see Howard play when he was just a first-year. “Obviously, I wasn’t around, but we did play Nate when he was a [first-year] at Keene state, so I can think back to those days,” Cain said.
He continued, “I think just his body developed. You know at that size, it can be a challenge to catch up to your body, and you know at our level to have a guy…that size and that’s as athletic as Nate is, that is as versatile as Nate is and has the ability to shoot the basketball, he can put it on the floor. I think he just got a lot more confident in all of those things as he progressed through his career.”
The difference between college basketball and professional basketball all comes down to the skill and the level of play. “…it’s more fast-paced, the people are stronger, faster and it’s people from all over the world so the talent is very good. It’s on a bigger stage too,” Howard said.
As far as similarities go, Howard said, “…it is just basketball. I have been playing it my whole life, [so I] just have to go out there and play my game and be a great teammate,” Howard said.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Titans Basketball Club is the newest member of the National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC), Canada’s only professional men’s basketball league. They were founded in June of 2016 by the ownership group Ball Construction, InnoSoft Canada and businessman Leon Martin.
According to the Titans’ website, this group was dedicated to bringing professional basketball to the Kitchener-Waterloo region.
Although they’re new, Howard said it’s still a great league. “I liked that it is a newer league and that it is rising and starting to get known more. It is also close to home so that family and friends can come visit and watch a game,” Howard said.
He continued, “I think it is going to be a good experience. It’s all new to everyone so we’ll all be in the same boat. We will be able to figure out everything together and that’s what is going to make us stronger because we have more to prove being a new team.”
Howard has a great support system and said he couldn’t have done it without them. The team was excited when they heard about Howard signing with a professional team. “Some of them [the players] reached out to me; Coach Cain and Coach Hundley were very excited for me. They helped me to reach this point. My family is always supportive and they are excited for me to begin this new chapter in my life. They are helping me out and being very supportive for everything I do,” Howard said.
Lastly he said, “[I] just want to thank the Keene State family, my teammates and coaches for helping me to reach this point.”
The Kitchener-Waterloo Titans franchise will tip off its inaugural 40-game season in December 2016.
Shelby Iava can be contacted at Siava@kscequinox.com