Three brothers who play basketball, two of whom have put up eye-popping numbers. A former football-playing dad who helps them train.
No, they're not even remotely affiliated with Big Baller Brand, but the Howard family, college basketball's newest dynasty, can sort of see the resemblance.
"With all the attention we've been getting recently, there have been a lot of comparisons," said Jordan Howard, a 22-year-old senior point guard at the University of Central Arkansas. "Some people call us 'the real Ball brothers,' but we just prefer to be the Howards."
"My family's not all extra like they are; we're pretty chill," added Markus Howard, an 18-year-old sophomore point guard at Marquette. "We're just the Howard family—just brothers who love to play basketball."
Both ranked among the 25 best scorers in Division I, the two youngest Howard brothers are masters of understatement. Jordan's broken a slew of UCA and conference records, and he just became the Southland Conference's all-time leading three-point scorer. Last week, he set the school's D-I record for scoring with 41 points in a victory over Incarnate Word and leads the conference at 24.3 points per game.
That performance came a week after his baby brother had set college basketball's single-game scoring mark for this season (and Marquette's all-time single-game record) with 52 points in an overtime win at Providence. Averaging 21.5 points per game, he also leads his conference, the Big East, in scoring. Together, their numbers make them look more like the Splash Brothers than the Balls.
"There's no trash talk—that night, I was the first to text him saying how awesome it was and how much it motivated me," Jordan said. "I was like, 'I gotta keep up with you,' and he was like, 'No, I gotta keep up with you.' We're just pushing each other to be the best we can be."
Few families are better equipped to do that pushing: Chuck Howard, their father, was a running back at Indiana University and is now a strength and conditioning trainer—after spending eight years as a strength coach at Grand Canyon University. Noemi Howard, their mother, still manages rec facilities there. Desmond Howard, the oldest brother (he and Jordan are just 19 months apart), has his own basketball skills training company.
That support system has meant the Howard brothers have been involved in sports for as long as they can remember. Growing up in Chandler, Arizona (a Phoenix suburb), Jordan wanted to be just like Desmond, and then Markus wanted to be just like Jordan, and before long the three brothers were having heated contests on the backyard basketball hoop.
"My older brother was always hard on me and Markus," Jordan said, laughing. "I mean, we love each other more than anything in the world, but when it came to competition we'd wind up going inside crying sometimes. There was always a lot of competition in the backyard, but it definitely ended up paying off."
Markus, both the youngest and most highly recruited brother coming out of high school, credits much of his success to the tough love from his brothers. "Growing up, my brothers would always say that I was going to be the best out of all of them," Markus said. "I never really believed it, but it's a tribute to them pushing me so hard—I wouldn't be where I'm at now without their guidance and love to help me get better. All those times when they'd beat up on me, make it hard for me—it was all helping me."
Jordan had decided to pursue basketball seriously by the time he was in junior high, and Markus—one of the best players in the state in his age group—would occasionally play three years ahead with his brother's team. At Perry High School, the two got to play on the same team for one year when Jordan was a senior and Markus was a freshman. It's an experience they both treasure and hope to replicate in the future.
"We were close before, but me and him are kind of inseparable now, and I think it all started with that one year," Markus said. They both insist they never got sick of each other, even though they were literally together from the car ride to school onward. "There's no other people I'd rather be with than my family," Jordan adds.
That team made a postseason run, losing in the semifinals to Corona Del Sol—Duke star Marvin Bagley III's eventual alma mater. That left Jordan with a moment of apprehension. It was his senior year, and having gone unrecruited, he wasn't sure what was next. Both he and Markus are listed at 5'11"—slightly undersized for D-I recruits. He knew Russ Pennell, now the head coach at Central Arkansas, from Pennell's tenure at Grand Canyon University—but at that point Pennell was still waiting to hear back about the head coaching job. He told Jordan, "Trust me," and once he was hired immediately added the middle Howard brother to the roster.
Markus, who switched to Findlay Prep (which counts Avery Bradley and Tristan Thompson among its alumni) to get to college sooner, wound up even further away in Milwaukee—but the family is more close knit than ever.
Whenever they're not at school, they're back doing the same training routine that's helped them defy expectations so far. "We work out with our older brother every day twice a day in the summer and then lift weights with my dad," Jordan said. "He's been so huge as far as developing me and Markus physically and making sure our bodies are right whenever we're home. My mom cooks all the meals and does all the laundry. It's just a complete family affair."
If there's a family secret to the training that's brought them Splash Brothers-esque stat lines, it's a simple one: consistency. "It's just about getting a lot of reps up, sharpening the tools that we already have and staying consistent," Markus said. Added Jordan: "We challenge each other and try to make the workouts as hard as possible—harder than the games. Being really consistent with our work ethic, every single day."
For fun, they stick to simple pleasures: NBA 2K and spades, a family favorite played with a real, old-school deck of cards. "My dad taught it to us," Markus said. "Any time we're all together, we play: me and my dad against Jordan and Desmond. It's a lot of fun. Me and my dad kill Desmond and Jordan."
Both brothers have made all-academic teams, and while they hope to go pro, both are interested in working in sports media. Jordan, who majored in digital filmmaking and marketing, wants to make 30 for 30-style documentaries. He's done some projects already, documenting a retreat this summer featuring his sports-agent uncle's clients LeGarrette Blount and Odell Beckham Jr. Markus, who's majoring in communications studies with a minor in digital media, wants to be in front of the camera, perhaps as Stephen A. Smith's next debate partner or filling in for Michael Wilbon.
For now though, their focus is still on basketball. Namely, carrying their teams into March by continuing to average more than 20 points a game (and for Markus, maintaining his remarkable 100 percent free-throw mark). All the family ties in the world can't put a damper on the competitiveness that the brothers both hope will bring them to the NBA.
"I gotta say I'd win," says Jordan of a hypothetical one-on-one match up with Markus. "I can't say my little brother's gonna beat me, but if anyone were to, I couldn't be mad if it was him."