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Enterprise High's Dallas Howell fights for a rebound during a game against Eufuala in the Downtown Dothan Hoops Classic at the Dothan Civic Center last month.

Enterprise High basketball standout Dallas Howell will play his first year at the next level for the College of Southern Idaho.

The CSI designation might be appropriate because Howell could be the steal of the season for the Golden Eagles.

The versatile, 6-foot-6 forward was prepared to make a business decision for himself. Knee surgery last spring cost him a valuable summer of basketball. An almost certain Division I prospect, Howell knew starting at a junior college would get him noticed.

“It’ll be a chance to boost my recruitment back up after this injury and prove that I can still play,” Howell said Wednesday.

But even he sounded surprised at how much he enjoyed his visit last weekend to Southern Idaho. Located in Twin Falls, CSI is regarded as one of the top junior college programs in the country. His parents went on the trip.

“They picked us up from the airport and took us to our hotel. When we got there, they had a thing on the door that said, ‘Welcome to the winningest JUCO ever,’” he said. “They had a game that night and we watched that.

“They played really well. I liked their style of play. It fits my game. After that, I went out to eat with the team and everybody was really cool. Went back to the hotel and got some sleep.

“The next day they took us to the falls — which is beautiful. Twin Falls is actually right next to a canyon. It’s beautiful landscape out there. It was snowing the day we went. One of the prettiest things I’ve seen.”

He signed on the trip to play for coach Jeff Reinert’s program.

“They came down to see him about two months ago, even before he came back,” Enterprise coach Rhett Harrelson said. “They were the only school that came down and offered him while he was still hurt. I think that held a lot of weight. They believed in him. He and his family went up there and fell in love with it. He committed, signed and it’s a done deal.”

Howell said the contact with CSI throughout his rehab process impressed him.

“They really got interested when I got hurt and everything because they knew I might go with them,” he said. “They have a great community (Twin Falls), a great basketball program. It was just an amazing experience, seeing how the community really gathered around the basketball program. I feel like it will really help my (Division I) recruitment.”

In addition to the knee injury, Howell had to work through a broken bone in his little finger, which also required surgery. Fortunately, it didn’t affect his timeline to return to the team in late December, but he said it impacted his offense.

“It’s affected my shooting a little bit,” he said. “I’m finally starting to get back in the groove of things. I just had to get more reps up because the five weeks I had that cast on I wasn’t able to shoot any. Now it gets sore after games or the next day, but there’s no pain that affects anything.”

He said his knee “feels great.”

“Last game (26 points against Jeff Davis on Tuesday) I felt like I moved really well,” Howell said. “It was one of my best games moving, so I feel it’s finally coming together. We just have to keep ice on it. It still swells a good bit.”

Harrelson said few people realize how tenaciously Howell attacked his rehab just to get back to the team.

“I had a very close relationship with his physical therapist over at Enterprise therapy Center,” the coach said. “They would just tell me they’ve never seen a guy work as hard as he possibly can — whether that be conditioning on the bike, working on the leg press, whatever it was.

“He did everything he was asked to do and then some in order to get back and be able to get on the court. On the court when he was with us at practice, if he wasn’t able to run or jump he was on the gun working on form shooting or working on stationary ball handling. He was doing everything in his power to get back and get better. He just worked his tail off. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Despite his late start to the season, Howell said his conditioning keeps improving.

“I had been conditioning for a while before, but there’s nothing that can really prepare you for basketball conditioning other than playing games,” he said. “We just had to work my minutes up from the first couple games. I feel fine now.”

Harrelson said CSI “is getting a winner.”

“He’s a worker, a gym rat, has a high basketball IQ,” the coach said. “He’s a great offensive rebounder, a knock-down shooter and can post up.

“But he’s an even better person. He’s just a great person, great teammate — a guy that’s going to live in the gym and only continue to get better. I’m so happy for him and his family.”

Howell has gone on summer mission trips to Guatemala with his church.

“We partner with an orphanage and that’s where we spend most of our time,” he said. “But we also do other stuff on different days, like build stoves and water filtration systems for different villages.”

He loves being back on the floor with his teammates.

“That’s been awesome. They stayed with me through the whole thing, kept me positive about it,” he said. “Everybody’s just really happy to have me back. It’s great to be playing next to them.”

He talked about some tough days when it wasn’t clear he’d be back this soon at this level.

“There were a couple (low points), but it wasn’t really during the summer,” he said. “It was when they first started practice. That one hurt, just sitting there watching them go through something I couldn’t do. And then the first game was rough.”

It’s a completely different outlook now, he said.

“It just feels great being back doing what I love. There’s no feeling like it,” he said.

Having the security of a place to play next season helps even more.

“It’s good just being able to relax and play my game like I’ve always wanted to play it, instead of trying to prove something,” Howell said. “I know I have something in my future and I can have fun with it.”

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