by Beau Wicker
J.R. Howell knows all about success in Indiana high school basketball.
He will now try to transfer that knowledge as the new head coach of the Caston Comets.
Howell was hired as Caston’s boys basketball coach by a 5-0 vote at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“I’m very excited and thrilled for the opportunity in front of me,” Howell said. “I believe Caston is a great basketball school. It’s had some great history, past coaches. I’m just excited to dive in and get started and continue the history and have a brighter future for the kids going up K through 12.”
Howell, 25, was a junior on Lapel’s 2005 Class A state championship team. He was the MVP of the state title game, a 51-40 win over Loogootee, when he scored 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting including 4-of-4 shooting from 3-point range.
Howell scored over 900 points during his three-year varsity career. He played his first varsity season as a sophomore at Brownsburg.
He went on to play college basketball at Marian University. He shot just over 90 percent from the foul line for both his high school and college careers.
He’s since had one-year coaching stints as an assistant at Center Grove High School, Anderson University and most recently Northwood University, a Division II school in Michigan.
Howell’s father, Jimmie Howell, has 507 career wins as an Indiana high school coach, which is eighth among active coaches and 25th all time in state history. Jimmie Howell still coaches at his alma mater Lapel, where he, too, was a high school basketball star.
Howell said he will, of course, utilize what he’s learned from his father in basketball. He added, “I’ve also had a lot of other coaches that I’ve been under. Jeff Rekeweg who’s up at Northwood, Tom Slyder who was at Anderson and is now at North Park University and Cliff Hawkins who’s a former Caston coach at Center Grove. I’m going to take everything I’ve learned from all of them and just kind of put it into one.”
Former Comet coach Ben Snyder resigned from the post to take a head coaching position at a high school in North Carolina. Snyder said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he can’t disclose the school until the hiring is official but that he was house hunting in North Carolina. He added his wife, an elementary school teacher, was also hired in North Carolina. Snyder said he’s waiting to get his teacher’s license in the state, which he’s already applied for, to complete his hiring. He added North Carolina has long been a dream destination of his.
As for his stint at Caston, Snyder said, “I was blessed. They have great kids and an amazing administration.”
Snyder went 45-23 in three seasons at Caston. He won 14, 16 and then 15 games during his stint. The Comets won a share of the Midwest Conference title in his first two years at the helm.
“I thought Ben did an excellent job here, and I wish him all the best of luck,” Caston athletic director Debb Stevens said. “He’s taken our program and pretty much turned it around and had a lot of success. He’ll do fine in North Carolina.”
Snyder has yet to resign from his teaching post at Caston but is expected to once he’s officially hired in North Carolina. So a teaching position was not yet open for Howell at Tuesday’s meeting. Snyder taught physical education and health at the high school.
“As soon as he resigns, then we’ll take J.R.’s name to the board and get that all straightened out,” Stevens said.
As for hiring Howell as the hoops coach, Stevens said, “I’m excited. He’s a people person. He’s a player’s coach. I really just think the kids are going to love playing for him.”
The Comets will be led by 6-foot senior point guard Quentin Douglass, who averaged 15.6 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game as a junior. He shot 53.7 percent from the field.
But they’ll have to replace leading scorer Jake Howdeshell, one of the top shooters in the state, Daniel Scales, a bruiser who helped the undersized Comets compete in the paint and Corey Moss, another starter who contributed solid minutes.
Howell said that prior to Tuesday he had not yet had a chance to see the Comets play other than on tape.
He plans to utilize man-to-man defense and motion offense.
“We’re going to be a good, solid defensive team and we’ll be defensive-minded,” he said. “I’ve seen the roster from last year and we’re not very tall, so we will look to get it out and run the floor and try to score some easy points in transition. We’ll also use that advantage on defense as far as really getting into people and try to force a lot of steals that we may not be able to get if people slow it down and we back off.”
By taking over in mid July, Howell doesn’t have much time left in the summer with his new team.
“I’m diving in right away,” he said. “I think I have about two weeks where we can work out and do some individual workouts, weight lifting, that kind of thing. We’re starting [this] morning. I want to instill a little bit of what I want the kids to develop on. Shooting is always key, but different other things they may not have worked on in the past that I can bring to them from the college level and we’ll go from there.”
Jimmie Howell, who’s 59, was in attendance when J.R. was hired.
“It’s a very proud moment,” he said. “I told him earlier this is one of those moments, father-son, he’s going into the same profession that I’m in.”
He added he thinks his son is well prepared for the job, considering he’s a coaches son and the coaches that he’s played and coached under.
“He knows what it takes, putting in a lot of time year around, and he’s got a passion for the game,” he said.
The year 2005 proved to be a special one for the Howells. J.R.’s cousin Jodi Howell was named Miss Basketball the year he won a state title. Jodi, who went on to play at Purdue, played high school ball at Alexandria, like Lapel a school located in Madison County.
Coincidentally, 2005 was the year Caston went 20-0 during the regular season in boys basketball. Doug Hicks’ Comets were then stunned in sectional play by Tri-County that season. West Central then won the sectional title before losing to Fort Wayne Blackhawk in regional play. Lapel defeated Tri-Central and Lafayette Central Catholic in regional play and Blackhawk in semistate play.