Basketball is an important part of life for the Howell family. Even though we live in Alabama now, Robin and I grew up in North Carolina, where a lot of people live and die with their team, whether it be Duke, the Tarheels, Wake Forest or NC State.
Both of us played basketball in junior high school and high school. I remember back then that if I was awake, I was in school, playing basketball, or fishing. That was it. There wasn’t much time for anything else. In fact, later in high school when it looked like I might have a career as a tournament angler my dad and I butted heads over whether I was spending too much time off the water. He thought I needed to focus on fishing even more, but I liked the balance that basketball provided. Besides, the season was usually more or less over before the spawn, so I could just pick up with fishing after we played our last game.
Given that history, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that our boys Laker and Oakley are basketball fanatics, too. While I wasn’t coached until I was in the 8th grade, we started both boys playing in organized leagues when they were 5 years old. I’ve been lucky enough to help out coaching their teams every year along the way. Even if I have to miss a few games in January for boat shows or seminars, another coach can take over and for the most part it gives me a chance to spend quality time with the boys.
They’re fast learners and sponges for information. In fact, I’m starting to think we may have taught them too well.
After Chickamauga , I helped some great local high school coaches with a basketball camp and my boys learned a lot. Just after that we reached a milestone in the Howell household – Laker beat me in one-on-one.
He’s only 12, but he’s dedicated to the sport and he’s growing fast. At 5’10”, he’s only an inch shorter than me (and by the time you read this he may have caught up), and he’s got a size 13 shoe and hands bigger than mine. We’ve played one-on-one for years and I’ve never really had to play hard, but this time it was clear that he’d hurdled to the next level.
He got ahead in the game quickly and then I tied it up. You had to win by two, and when he set up for a long outside shot I didn’t stay tight enough and he drained a 3 like a pro. Even though he’d never tested me before, I had only let him win when he was a little fella, to encourage him from time to time, but this time he won fair and square.
I knew it would happen one day, but I figured I had a few more years of being the top dog. On the one hand, it was one of my proudest moments because he’s really developing into a good competitor and a solid young man. On the other hand, I HATE to lose at anything, and I have a feeling that it’s not going to get any easier in the Howell household as Oakley is developing faster than Laker has.
I still think of him as that little 5 year old who barely knew the rules, could barely dribble the ball, or hit the rim with it, and now he’s almost my equal.
In some respects it got me thinking of what the other pros must’ve thought of me when I first started fishing the Bassmaster Tour at age 19. I’m sure some of them thought I was just an overly enthusiastic kid with a flat top that had a lot to learn! I got to fish against all of my heroes – anglers like Rick Clunn, Larry Nixon and Guido Hibdon – and none of them let up a bit. They were probably just in their 40s, but they seemed like such wise old men, and clearly they were all great anglers.
Now, at 40, I’ve heard myself referred to as a “grizzled veteran” on more than one occasion of the Bassmaster show. Every time I hear something like that it catches me off guard because I still feel like that 19 year old kid fishing on a shoestring budget (my main Two sponsors were plastic companies – Visa and Mastercard!} and just trying to get a foothold in the industry. Even now that I’ve been blessed to win the Bassmaster Classic, I still feel like I have a lot to accomplish. I’m humbled that I still get to compete against many of my heroes every day, and I hope they never let up in terms of competition.
I hope I can represent the sport well enough to have the young guys look up to me as I have looked up to the older guys over the years. Our sport is still the greatest one on earth and I believe honor and respect is why our players are all good people that I’m proud to represent. In other sports like Basketball and football we have lots of great people that give their time and expertise to the younger generation in camps across the country, but it’s harder to do it that way in fishing, so I challenge everybody reading this to get out there in your area of influence and try to pass on your knowledge to the younger generation, that’s the only way to get fulfillment and joy out of your abilities and accomplishments.