Wooden Watch Q&A: Marquette senior Markus Howard

  • ESPN insider/analyst and correspondent for the “The Board Room”
  • Co-host of the new hoops podcast, “Pull Up,” with CJ McCollum
  • Former college 2-guard

Markus Howard continues to rack up numbers and climb lists.

In addition to being Division I college basketball’s leading scorer in 2019-20, the Marquette Golden Eagles senior is already No. 1 in points in both the storied history of the Big East Conference and of a Marquette program with a rich, national-level tradition. It is that proficiency that has landed Howard on the Watch List for the John R. Wooden Award, where he is considered by those who follow the game to be among the honor’s top tier of candidates.

In the run-up to what should be an emotional senior day for Howard and Marquette against 13th-ranked Seton Hall on Saturday, ESPN sat down with the 20-year-old Howard to discuss his career, his decision to stay for four years at Marquette, and which players at the next level offer inspiration as he prepares to embark on a professional journey:

Jordan Schultz, ESPN: Is it meaningful to be considered a finalist for the Wooden Award? Do you allow yourself to think about that?

Markus Howard: I think it’s a great honor; it’s a privilege. But I know also, too, as a player in my position, if my team’s winning, all that stuff will come, but that is never something that I really have given too much thought about. Of course, it is something that would be great to accomplish, but I think the more our team wins, the more not only myself, but my teammates will be looking for that. It can cloud a lot of people’s minds; it can motivate a lot of people. But I just know that if winning is at the forefront — if our team is winning, it will pan out for all of us.

ESPN: Did you ever think that this type of career was possible? When did you realize that you could have this type of impact on the national landscape of college basketball?

Howard: Going into it you always have high hopes, but you can never really plan for things to happen. I would say I surprised myself and some people along the way, but I’ve had full trust and confidence in my abilities from the beginning. My coaches and teammates have instilled confidence in me as well. It’s an honor to have an impact on the national level, and I can only think about the people who’ve helped get me here. I’m fortunate and I’m thankful and I’m blessed.

ESPN: Can you take us through your decision to come back for your senior year and what went into that?

Howard: In the back of my mind and in my heart, I knew there were still things I needed to get better at. I thought it would be really important for me to complete my degree and just finish what I started. I wanted to end on a good note, especially the way in which last year ended, and that wasn’t the way I wanted my career at Marquette to end. It has paid dividends so far. Continue to get better in all aspects of my game, especially my defense, decision-making and finishing around the rim. I wanted to be sure I was trying to cover all facets of my game and not just one and that’s just been what I have been doing while I’m here at school. I have been fortunate to have one more year, and I am just trying to just continue to make the most of it.

ESPN: Did you ever worry that coming back to school as a senior would add more pressure? Or that you might become stigmatized by people at the next level for staying all four years?

Howard: I mean, the whole “staying four years” thing, that was never something that I thought would cloud my mind. There can be some added pressure, but like I said, my coaches and my teammates have done a great job of trying to steer that pressure away from me by just letting me play and be who I am. They’ve really helped me play with a certain type of poise — they make me not have to feel that insurmountable pressure that a lot of people might think I have. I give all the credit to them as well.

ESPN: Was there a specific element to your game that you really wanted to improve last summer?

Howard: I would have to say my pace. You know, I think my pace has been a lot better. I admit, I played at one speed a little too much in years past, but I think now I’m starting to get better at changing speeds and playing at my pace and not letting [the defense] speed me up. And even when teams do kind of cue in on me, trying to make a play, I think I’ve gotten better and better over the years. It’s something that I’ve worked on and something that I’ve been able to do well.

ESPN: What would you say to the one-and-done kids considering just coming to school for one year?

Howard: You’re gonna have ups and downs, of course. I think truly, if you take the time and you really embrace the time that you’re there for, especially if you’re there four years, you’re gonna get the most value if you’re able to build those relationships. I think that’s something I’ve done and something I’m really fortunate looking back on. You will really grow — not only on the court, but off it. Looking back on it, I’m really happy with my decision to stay for four years.

ESPN: Marquette has had some classic battles with Seton Hall, and your career has coincided with that of another fantastic Big East guard, Myles Powell. With what will likely be your final matchup coming up Saturday, what comes to mind when you think about playing against Myles and Seton Hall?

Howard: Honestly, he’s a tremendous player. I truly believe that their team is as stacked as any team in the country. They have great contributing players off the bench — a great defensive presence. I think his cast of characters is up there with anybody in the country. They’ve been playing excellent basketball and Myles is their leader and at the forefront of it all and they feed off of him. They’re a really good team. You can’t make many mistakes against them because they will make you pay for it. All in all, I think they’re a great team and Myles does a great job of leading them on the court.

ESPN: Is there a favorite memory from your career, a specific game or shot, that you know you’ll never forget?

Howard: The most memorable moment for me was I found out that me and my brother (Jordan, who played at Central Arkansas) had become the all-time brother duo in scoring in college basketball (passing Steph and Seth Curry). To win that game was a big game for us. To break that record and have my name be shared with my brother is a tremendous honor and one that we will never forget. We will talk about it for years to come.

ESPN: Do you remember the first thing he said to you when it happened?

Howard: He was just smiling at me and it was an indescribable feeling. I knew my parents would be proud. For us to share something like that, it is something we will always have in the back of our minds.

ESPN: Let’s rewind the clock back to your recruitment. Where else were you considering and what separated Marquette from the rest of the pack when you decommitted from Arizona State?

Howard: My final four was actually Arizona State, Baylor, Central Arkansas and Marquette. I felt truly comfortable here. Also, (Marquette assistant) Stan Johnson used to be a coach at Arizona State when I was committed there, and when he made the change to Marquette, he was a big part of that. He’s more like family. He had a vision for me as a player here. I really trusted him and what the coaching staff’s plan was for me [at Marquette]. It turned out to be a really good decision. They had full trust in me from the start and they’ve been in my corner every step of the way.

ESPN: How has your relationship with head coach Steve Wojciechowski and the entire staff grown during your tenure at Marquette?

Howard: It’s just like any relationship. It takes time. Each and every year we became closer and closer. We’re like one big family. I can talk to every coach about anything, whether it is on the court or off the court. Not just basketball, but also just how to be a man.

ESPN: Do you think that your relationship with the school and the way you value the game of basketball has evolved? Has it changed with all of the success you’ve enjoyed?

Howard: I think so. Year after year, it has certainly gotten stronger and I have grown to appreciate everything about this school, especially the people. I think you truly have to be here to experience it. I’ve been fortunate to experience that. The people here will always have a special place in my heart. Marquette has given me a tremendous opportunity to be a person in the community — how I represent myself off the court. I think the thing I can take away the most is how many people Marquette has put me in contact with. I’ve met so many great people throughout the years. Just to build good relationships, I think, is something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.

ESPN: Where do you think you have evolved the most as a person?

Howard: I have always been an anxious person, so I think just learning how to become patient, and to kind of take a step back and not take for granted the things that are in front of you, especially with this being my last year. Every day is precious, so trying to make the most of each day. Not making things bigger than they have to be. Basketball is a game, it doesn’t define who I am. It’s something I do — it’s not who I am, and I like to keep that in mind. But also, using the abilities that God gave me to the best of my ability.

ESPN: Zion Williamson has talked about how much he misses being a college student at Duke and how his enjoyment of college weighed on him during the decision process. What do you think you will miss most about school?

Howard: I think the thing I will miss most is the time spent with teammates. It is truly like a brotherhood in terms of the guys you go to war with on a nightly basis. Just hanging around with the guys, I think, is something that I’m gonna miss the most — the group of guys that we have on our team and the time we spend together on and off the court. I know no matter where we all go that we’re gonna stay in contact, but I think the people within the program.

ESPN: Is there a player at the next level that you want to emulate, whether it’s body type, style, where you say I want to be like that or I can see myself doing that?

Howard: Damian Lillard. I have a long way to go to be like him, but he is one of my favorite players to watch. What he is doing around the league is unbelievable, just the way he is able to create his shot, get separation from defenders, things like that. That’s a guy I really like to watch.

ESPN: What about CJ McCollum?

Howard: You know him and CJ play so much alike, I would put them in the same category. Those two are unbelievable. I mean, you want to talk about just, can get you a bucket at any time, those two have it in spades. Those two are just monsters.

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