Marquette junior guard Markus Howard already had good reasons to circle Wednesday’s game at Indiana on the schedule.
It is the first of several high-profile, non-conference matchups for a MU team that wanted to challenge itself.
Howard’s father, Chuck, also grew up in Indianapolis and was a running back on the Hoosiers’ football team in the early 1980s. Markus often went to Indiana in the summer to visit relatives.
And now MU (2-0) will play its first game as a ranked team in almost five years after checking in at No. 24 in this week’s Associated Press poll.
Not that some national recognition will disrupt Howard’s focus.
“Just going on the road against a team like Indiana, we want to make sure we’re taking all the steps necessary to come out with a win and that starts with our preparation,” he said.
Howard’s dad, mom and oldest brother, Desmond, will make the trip from the family’s home in Arizona to be at Assembly Hall for the game against Indiana (2-0).
“Definitely being able to play in a place that’s close to my heart, in front of family, is important to me,” Howard said.
Chuck Howard has been looking forward to this game since the matchup was announced.
“The stress started then,” Chuck said. “The rumble in the stomach. It’s exciting. Just happy that he is going to play in a storied arena. I remember, during spring drills (for football), we used go in Assembly Hall and run around the circle.”
Chuck Howard was a speedy halfback and kick returner for Indiana coaches Lee Corso (yes, the ESPN talking head once roamed the sideline), Sam Wyche and Bill Mallory. Howard had 166 yards and one touchdown from 1981-’86 while often battling injuries.
“He showed me some game footage and he was a monster,” Markus said.
Markus never developed a passion for football. Chuck cited the heat of Arizona, where the family moved from New Jersey when Markus was 3 years old, as a major factor in his son choosing an indoor sport.
“The only reason I wanted to play is because he played it and I felt like me and him would hit that off,” Markus said. “But he really didn’t have any desire for me to play, because he took so many hits and stuff. He didn’t want me to go through that.
“And he knew how much I loved basketball. Ever since I’ve picked up a ball, he’s always been for it.”
Chuck certainly understood falling for hoops.
“Being from Indiana, basketball was a major part of everybody’s life,” he said.
As a highly regarded hoops recruit, Markus took an unofficial visit to Indiana in 2015 and the Howard family was shown around by then-coach Tom Crean. Of course, Chuck made sure to check out the football facilities.
“Assembly Hall was under construction, so I didn’t get to see the whole arena,” Markus said. “Just being around the campus, talking with Coach Crean and the staff he had there, it was a cool experience.”
Golden Eagles fans are thankful that Markus ended up at MU.
The guard was named Big East player of the week on Monday after averaging 26.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in two wins at home.
He scored 37 points on 10-for-16 shooting against Bethune-Cookman.
“I have to be aggressive,” Markus said. “When I play that way, I play at my best.”
He is eager to take the show on the road.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity to play at one of the best arenas in the country in terms of history and stuff like that,” Markus said.
“I also just love playing on the road. I love being able to go into opposing teams’ homes and trying to come out with a win.”
Assembly Hall won’t be a completely hostile environment, with a sizable section of Howard’s immediate and extended family.
“Just to go back and sit in the seats and actually watch my son play is exciting,” Chuck said. “The big thing for me is just to be able see him; we don’t get to see him because he’s been away (at school).
“Just seeing him is a joy and to be able to see him in a place I spent so much time at, it’s going to be really special.”