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33 days ‘til opening day: Like its legendary No. 33, Central Arkansas has another all-time great

NCAA Basketball: Central Arkansas at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Nov. 10 couldn’t come soon enough.

As we slide through the final weeks before college basketball returns, we’ll look at one storyline about the upcoming season that lines up with the number of days until opening day. Keep coming back to see if we have the creativity and dedication to pull this off. No promises.

It’s Oct. 8 and we’re just 33 days from opening day.

For this (suburban) Chicago native, the number 33 can mean only thing: the most overlooked player in basketball history.

Before Scottie Pippen became a Hall of Famer in the shadow of the greatest player ever, he was a 6’1’’ walk on at Central Arkansas, then playing in the NAIA. After a growth spurt, he ended up as a two-time NAIA first team All-American, averaging 20.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game over his final three seasons.

Here’s his college coach, Don Dyer, in a 2010 interview:

"Scottie didn’t have the size early on, but he always had long arms,” Dyer said. “He kept growing and growing."

By his junior year, Pippen had grown to 6-7, and from there Pippen grew into one of basketball's greatest players. As a senior, he averaged 23.6 points, 10 rebounds, 4.3 assists and nearly 60% field-goal shooting to earn consensus NAIA All-American honors. UCA won consecutive Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships in Pippen's last two seasons.

Pippen’s No. 33 was, obviously, eventually retired by the school (but for some reason it took all the way until 2010).

The countdown, however, is not just in the business of fun history lessons. Pippen and his UCA greatness are relevant to the 2017-18 season, because the Bears have another all-time great currently on the roster. Here are five quick facts on UCA senior point guard Jordan Howard, a player that should be known outside the Southland:

  • He’s a dynamic scorer. Howard is the Southland’s leading returning scorer (19.5 PPG), and has finished no worse than fifth in the league in points per game in each of this three seasons. In 2016-17, he led the Southland in three-point shooting during league play (47.2%) and finished second in free throw percentage (86.5%).
  • He’s racked up the awards. The senior is one of just 47 players in Southland history to be named to the all-league first team twice. Should he receive the honor again in 2017-18, he’d join an elite handful of three-time honorees, a group that includes Karl Malone. Howard is just the second player in UCA history to be named to an All-Southland first team.
  • He’s climbing the record books. Howard’s 1,626 career points are fourth in UCA history, and just 531 points behind the all-time record held by Clifton Bush. He’s averaged 594 points over the past two seasons, so barring injury, appears set to finish his career as the program’s top scorer. He’s already made the most three-pointers in UCA history (273), and has the second-best career free throw percentage (85.5%).

Howard’s offensive prowess will be on display against Baylor (Nov. 10), UCLA (Nov. 15) and Oregon (Dec. 20) this upcoming season, giving him a well-deserved national audience in the final season of a storied career.