Howard makes collegiate decision

Bluegrass bound

By JOE CANNON joe.cannon@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 5/19/17

Drum roll, please!

And the winner is — the University of Kentucky.

After long, careful consideration, Miss Tennessee Basketball runner-up Rhyne Howard has chosen where she wants to play …

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Howard makes collegiate decision

Bluegrass bound

Posted

Drum roll, please!

And the winner is — the University of Kentucky.

After long, careful consideration, Miss Tennessee Basketball runner-up Rhyne Howard has chosen where she wants to play collegiately.

The two-time unanimous District 5-AAA Player of the Year and Tennessee Sports Writers Association All-Stater announced her commitment to the Wildcats on Thursday afternoon, and will head to the Blue Grass State after the little matter of finishing out her outstanding career with the Bradley Central Bearettes next season.

“Kentucky just felt like home when I was on campus,” Howard related. “I know I will get pushed to the limit academically and athletically.

“I really had a lot of fun hanging out with Coach (Matthew) Mitchell and the team on my visit,” she added. “They really welcomed me and made me feel comfortable.”

The Wildcats edged out reigning national champion South Carolina and Purdue, which was the team that was leading the pack in her decision-making for a long time.

“South Carolina has a big roster and (several) recruits coming in that play the same position as me,” Howard related.

“I really liked Purdue, but it just came down to the distance from home.”

Lexington, Ky., is about half the distance — 252 miles, just under four hours of driving time from Cleveland — while Lafayette, Ind. is 500 miles and 7 1/2 hours away.

Howard had announced just last week at the Bearette Basketball Banquet that she had narrowed her college choices to the Final 3, stating her decision would be based on “academics and just the relationships I’ve built with the coaches.”

All three schools have strong engineering programs, which is her desired field of study as she plans to become a civil and structural engineer.

Receiving well over 20 offers from top NCAA Division I programs over the past two seasons, Howard trimmed her potential list to a half dozen last fall, but eliminated Florida, where her mother played, plus Georgia Tech and North Carolina State from consideration with last week’s announcement.

After recently scoring 15 points and helping lead the USA Team to victory over the Canadian All-Stars in the Across the Border Global Games in Brantford, Ontario, Howard has moved up the 2018 ESPN Prospect list from No. 38 to 33rd.

A three-time All-Region 3-AAA Team member, she has been named to the All-District 5-AAA Team four times, including her eighth-grade season, when she was the leading scorer and top player for the East Hamilton varsity squad.

Since transferring to Bradley before entering high school, Howard has led the team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots all three years, with the exception of being second in scoring her freshman, when she was just barely behind Lee University signee Halle Hughes that season.

She is currently ranked 14th on the all-time Bearette scoring list, with 1,753 points. She could challenge for a spot in the Top 5 with another strong season to wrap up her prep career.

Howard scored 647 points in the most recent campaign, shooting 62 percent from two-point range, 40 percent from beyond the arc, plus 74 percent from the free-throw line.

Posting eight double-doubles, Howard left her mark defensively as well, with a career-best 153 steals to rank third overall in the state.

The dynamic 6-foot-2 playmaker averaged 19.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.6 steals, 3.8 assists and 1.2 blocks per game as the nationally-ranked Bearettes went 32-1 this past season.

She helped Class AAA's top scoring defense hold 13 teams under 30 points, as well as only give up an average of 35.6 points overall per outing.

Her sophomore season, Howard ripped the cords for 18.5 ppg, pulled down 6.85 caroms an outing, dished off 154 assists, swiped 117 steals and blocked 47 shots.

With the graduation of all-state teammate Hughes, plus four-year starter Emma Kate Brown (Milligan College) and fellow seniors Sydney Morgan and Kailey McRee (Cleveland State), Howard will be the only returning starter for Coach Jason Reuter’s Bradley squad this fall, as well as its lone senior.

Kentucky posted a 22-11 overall record this past season, including an 11-5 mark against Southeastern Conference competition.

The Wildcats were runner-up to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament and advanced to the NCAA National Tournament, defeating Belmont, before falling to Ohio State in the second round.

Kentucky lost a trio of seniors off of this year’s squad, including two who went in the first 10 picks of the recent WNBA Draft — Evelyn Akhator, who was the third overall pick going to the Dallas Wings, and Makayla Epps, who went 33rd to the Chicago Sky.

Mitchell’s teams are known for using three “winning tools” for success: honesty, hard work and discipline, and many feel it’s no surprise that six seasons into his tenure as head coach he became the winningest head coach in program history.

Having just completed his 10th season as head coach at Kentucky, Mitchell has 271 victories, and year after year assembles teams that are synonymous with winning, both on and off the court.

Mitchell’s defensive philosophy, is a big reason for Kentucky’s recent success. Much like the Bearettes, the Wildcats used a full-court, trapping, pressure style of defense that was dubbed by many as “40 minutes of dread.”

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