Jordan Howard is from Phoenix, Arizona. Ethan Lee is from Camden.

It's a match that neither saw coming when coach Russ Pennell put together his first University of Central Arkansas team four years ago.

"I never knew a kid from Arizona could come out here with the only coach who ever believed in me," Howard said. "I know it was the right decision. Now, Ethan is my roommate and best friend. You could have written a movie about it."

Howard, now the leading scorer in Arkansas Division I college basketball history, and Lee, the only player Pennell kept on the squad when he took over, will go through Senior Day ceremonies Saturday at the Farris Center before the Bears' game with Northwestern State.

Howard impressed Pennell as a fifth-grader in an academy he ran in the Phoenix area. "He was always trying to get better," Pennell said.

Pennell said Eddie House, a former star at Arizona State star who had a outstanding NBA career, was the best player he had ever coached until Howard came along.

"Jordan may be a little better because of his ballhandling and the ability to create his shot," Pennell said.

"Coach put me in position to reach heights I'd never thought I'd reach," Howard said.

Lee is  a survivor.

When Pennell took the job, athletic director Brad Teague advised he to talk to Lee, by far the best student on a team devoid of true student-athletes, because he was a "keeper."

After Pennell's first one-on-one conversation with the freshman, he convinced of that.

"I told Ethan that I was letting all his teammates go but I wanted him to stay if he wanted to stay," Pennell said. "But when I had a meeting with the team and told them that sometimes things in life come back to roost on you and you have to pay the price and penalties and all that and I was turning them loose.  Ethan came to me later and said that he knew I told him I was gonna be part of the team, but I was so convincing he thought I had cut him, too.

 "You just don't get the energy that dude brings. And It doesn't matter how I use him. He would be a great baseball player. Hey, you are going to play second base today. 'OK, I'll move.' Now you're going to play out in left field. 'OK, sign me up. I don't care. Just call my name and put me in.'"

There will be some emotional moments Saturday when Pennell says goodbye to three seniors (Howard, Lee and Mathieu Kamba)  that helped create the kind of foundation he envisioned at UCA. Those initial players have helped change the culture.

"They showed that you have to play up to a standard to be on a Central Arkansas team," Pennell said.

"The last five years have been bittersweet," Lee said. "Bitter because you'll never find a group of guys and a coaching staff so genuine and so loving," Lee said "The lessons have been invaluable. I don't know if I'll ever learn as much over a five-year period as I did here. This is bigger that basketball. The struggle has been beautiful, surprisingly. You don't think of a struggle as being beautiful but it has been so sweet at the end.

"It is more than basketball with coach P. He has allowed us to see his heart."

Keepers all.

Sports editor David McCollum can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd