Dan Howard, Pivotal Seven-Footer

Remember the lamp Ralphie's father won in the movie Christmas Story?

That mesh-stocking lamp of a lady's leg inspired BYU's 7-0 freshman center Dan Howard to make one of his own from the mid-thigh length cast for his broken leg.

That broken leg caused all but two of the 40 schools to stop recruiting Howard when the injury happened as a junior at Kaysville's Davis High School.

Now another injury has sidelined Howard at BYU. Torn knee cartilage suffered in practice before the road trip earlier this month to Arizona and Colorado necessitated orthoscopic surgery the day of the Arizona State game. A medical redshirt may be in order for the first-year freshman if he is not able to return to action in the next several weeks.

Because of his broken leg years ago, only BYU and Utah remained in the picture for Howard. Schools like Syracuse, Notre Dame and USC quit contacting him through younger sister Becky, his unofficial personal secretary.

"I had to sit out for a full year when I broke my leg," says Howard. "I was on crutches for six weeks after spending a couple of weeks in bed.

"My grandpa wanted me to go to USC where he had gone, but it came down to BYU and Utah.

"I was surprised because it was the BYU fans who gave me a hard time," says Howard, who announced his decision in November, 1996. Those fans thought he should go to a more promising program, rather than join the Cougars who went on to finish with a 1-25 record as Dan completed his senior year.

He finally got to play against Mekeli Wesley, another prep senior who had just signed with BYU, but Davis lost to Provo again. A member of that Provo High team was Tim Law, son of BYU Baseball Coach Vance Law. Tim would later become Howard's last mission companion in the Toronto East Mission in Canada where they were a handful of missionaries assigned to speak Mandarin Chinese.

A year earlier, Howard missed playing against Wesley because of a back injury. Then he broke his leg in practice the next week while preparing for "the battle of the seven-footers," and never got to play against Fremont's Cameron Koford.

Koford, who went on to play at Weber State, wasn't the first seven-footer Howard was to have played against, but it would have been the first time Dan stood seven-feet tall.

When Dan stood 6-3 as an eighth-grader his team played in the Las Vegas Tournament (he also played in tournaments at Florida, California, and Arizona) against a team that featured twin seven-foot brothers.

"They were huge and they killed us," said Howard, who never thought about shaving like those seven-footers, let alone grow to their height. Had David Anderson, 7-0, 250, returned from his mission (transferred to Florida State where he is averaging 3.3 ppg , 4.0 rpg and 19.5 minutes in six games) to BYU for his sophomore year, then Howard could have combined with him for Cougar twin towers.

Meeting seven-footers is a rarity for Howard, who reached the milestone height as a junior just before he broke his leg. He has yet to meet 7-6 Shawn Bradley. Having missed playing against Koford, he played against a 7-2 player from Arizona at a University of Utah basketball camp.

"The tallest person I have played against was Woods (Tony)," said Howard of the University of Arizona's 7-1 junior he faced at the beginning of this month.

Howard played against BYU's 6-11 Bret Jepsen a month before Dan left to serve in Canada.

"He (Jepsen) weighed 255 and I weighed 190 when we met in a pickup game at the Marriott Center," says Howard, who checked in this season weighing 220. "I had just gotten off my mission," says Jepsen. "If you see him shoot free throws, it is unusual for him not to make 10 out of 10. He has great touch for a big guy.

"It's hard to believe he's just a freshman. He is not as easy as he used to be to move around."

Weight, along with height have been issues with Howard. He gained 40 pounds while on his mission, but he has lost 20 pounds since this season started.

Those 40 pounds were put on while eating his favorite Chinese food of Laobing-pork and vegetables inside fried dough. He also had to dine on delicacies like chicken feet, cow's stomach, and squid tentacles.

"I hated Chinese food before my mission," says Howard. "We used to eat at the Mandarin (in Bountiful) and my family would tease me because I'd order root beer."

After dining out in Toronto with his mission companion, sometimes host families would tease him about paying for the free meals by changing light bulbs because of his height.

"One bulb was in a hallway ceiling that was 30 feet high, so one of my companions had to hold the ladder," says Howard.

Teasing about his height comes easily for the modest Howard. As he stood in the airplane that had just landed in Tucson, a woman asked him how tall he was.

"Seven," was Howard's reply. The woman mistook him to mean 6-7.

"I test people's ability to judge height," says Howard when asked how he responds to those who want to know how tall he stands.

"I tell them I am 6-1, and they say, 'Wow.' I tell people I had to grow out of self-defense," when he is asked why he is taller than his three other brothers.

Oldest brother Jim, now a medical student at the University of Utah, stands 6-4. It was Jim, who is six years older than Dan, who inspired the future seven-footer to complete his first dunk as an eighth-grader when the two were playing at a church gym. One of Dan's brothers also inspired him to select a phone number ending with the buzzword "P-H-A-T."

Steve, brother number two, is 6-9, only wears a size 11 shoe, and played for Ricks College and Alaska-Anchorage. Steve is now in dental school at the University of Pacific, following in their father's footsteps.

Dan's younger brother is known as "Pooch" to everyone and stands 6-1 as a junior in high school.

"Pooch is the only one who can come close to me on the Mario Cart game in Nintendo 64," says Dan. "I'm dominant."

The seven-foot Eagle Scout has a reach of 9-6 when standing flat-footed beneath the basket in his size 16 shoes. His mission president paired him with 5-3 Russell Lee from Hong Kong as his first missionary companion.

"I trained another missionary who was also really short. We used to entertain ourselves by watching people's heads turn as they drove past us. My height was always a good opener for a conversation."

Many of those conversations in Toronto were the two subway lines, the Bloor Line and the Yonge Line where they would look for prospects who looked like they could speak Chinese.

There are over 300,000 inhabitants in the two-million-plus Toronto population base that have Chinese as their mother tongue. Before his mission, Howard had only been to Canada on a family vacation to Glacier National Park.

Two summers after that vacation, Elder Howard was attending church meetings in Canada where services were conducted in a mixture of Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and English.

"There were always translations going on during the meetings," says Howard.

Aside from taking Chinese 201-Second Year Mandarin, Howard maintains his Chinese language skills through phone calls and e-mails with church members in Toronto. He missed taking the Chinese language exam for BYU credit because the test was administered the same night as Howard was pulling down two rebounds in six minutes of playing time in the victory over Southern Utah.

In the season opening victory over Cal-Riverside, Howard was three-for-three in field goals, but missed his two free throws and had five rebounds in nine minutes.

After games at BYU, Howard goes to his off-campus apartment which he shares with five other students. There is some uniqueness to that apartment because three of the roommates are named Dan and the other two roommates are named Trevor.

"I think it was the humor of the apartment managers to put us all together," says Howard, who is known as "NBA Dan," when phone callers try to describe which Dan they are trying to reach. Roommate Dan Callister is known by the initials "DC", while roommate Dan Caffee is known as the "rock star." Roommates Trevor are differentiated by the initials "TD" and "TJ."

Instead of being known as the seven-footer, the tall guy, or as "NBA Dan,"he ought to be known as a gentle giant off the court. Despite continued second-looks from passers-by and their remarks about him being so tall, he remains unphased.

"His kindness impresses me," says former teammate Jepsen of Howard. "He was always concerned with how I was feeling.

"If he puts in time at the weight room, then his size alone will help him play in the pros."