Howard excelling on world stage

By GARY OWNBEY
Posted 6/7/19

Getting a chance to come home for a short stay between representing our nation and the University of Kentucky, Rhyne Howard got to visit former teammates and help out with the area's younger players …

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Howard excelling on world stage

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Getting a chance to come home for a short stay between representing our nation and the University of Kentucky, Rhyne Howard got to visit former teammates and help out with the area's younger players as state champion Bradley Central held its annual Bearette Basketball Camp last week at Jim Smiddy Arena.

The 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year and Miss Tennessee Basketball winner also stopped by the Cleveland Daily Banner office to chat with a couple of local media members about her first season in the Big Blue Nation as a Lady Wildcat at Kentucky.

While her list of accomplishments as a freshman are unprecedented for the Lady Wildcat program, Howard said she is looking for even more.

When asked about her goal upon entering UK as a freshman, she never hesitated in stating  it was to be named the Freshman of the Year in the SEC.

She says she’s now working toward becoming the SEC Player of the Year as she enters her sophomore season.

Having played before some large crowds at Bradley Central and at various tournament sites, the arenas of the Southeastern Conference, and other collegiate sites, were not daunting to the precocious freshman.

She listed Louisville as her favorite college floor after her home court in Lexington, Ky.

Howard first met and played for Lady Cardinal Head Coach Jeff Walz when she was selected to the USA Women’s U-18 National team that played in Mexico following her senior season at Bradley Central.

“He prepared me for the speed that I would see in the game and made the transition from high school to basketball easier in college. Beating his team on their home floor was one of the highlights of my season,” she respectfully stated of Kentucky's 80-75 victory over the then fifth-ranked Louisville squad that ended its season with a loss to perennial powerhouse UConn in the Elite Eight. 

Coach Walz knew he had a diamond in the rough on the U18 national team as Howard was named Most Valuable Player as the American team brought home the gold medal from the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Mexico City.

While playing in New York City in the nationally-televised Jordan Brand Classic, as well the Across the Border Global Games in Canada while still in high school, her game went truly international beginning last summer with the trip to south of the border.

Howard has become a world traveler having now played for Kentucky in Italy and The Bahamas.

Having recently made the USA Women’s U-19 World Cup team, she will once again represent our country as they play in Bangkok, Thailand and Tokyo in July.

After scrimmage games against the national teams from Japan, Argentina and Germany, the USA team will enter the tournament as the top-ranked team after having won their sixth consecutive gold medal in the event in 2015. 

The USA squad will compete in the preliminary round in Group C, along with Australia, Hungary and South Korea.

On the collegiate court, Howard's Kentucky teammates helped make the transition easier for her upon arrival in Lexington by working with her and telling her what to expect.

Off the court, she had to learn how to deal with missing classes due to road games and tournaments.

“The professors are given a schedule for athletes that are in their class. They must sign off on the schedule, which lets them know when to expect us to be missing from their class. They’ll send us the upcoming assignments so that we don’t fall behind in our academics,” she related.

Speaking of classes, Howard mentioned that she is majoring in "Digital Media and Design." According to the Kentucky academic website, this class "combines fundamentals of production skills in video, photography, design and programming with the ability to understand and analyze how these skills transform our culture."

As for her future plans following college, Howard looks forward for the opportunity to someday play in the Women's National Basketball Association.

When asked if she had a preference about where she would like to play, she was quick to respond: "Anywhere that isn’t cold!"

Her favorite player in the WNBA is former Tennessee Lady Vol Candace Parker, who currently plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, which also happens to be Howard's favorite team.

Currently Howard is helping the Kentucky coaching staff when looking for new Lady Wildcats. “I’ll hear about a player that is supposed to be good and mention to one of our coaches that they should check her out.”

Now as a returning player she sometimes acts as a hostess to show the recruits the UK campus and talk about the program.

She thinks the Lady Wildcats will be in the mix for the SEC championship this season with most of the ladies returning along with a couple of hot-shot recruits and a transfer that will be eligible this season.

She also thinks South Carolina will be the team to beat.

She listed Chennady Carter of Texas A&M as the toughest individual player she faced with the Lady Bulldogs of Coach Vic Schaefer at Mississippi State as the overall toughest team.

Bradley Central Bearette coach, Jason Reuter, has had a lot of questions asked of him concerning Howard.

"I cannot say that Rhyne is the best Bearette to ever play because I never saw many of the great ones play. But she is definitely the best that ever played for me," he stated.

Howard scored 2,662 career points, counting her eighth-grade season for East Hamilton, and put up 22.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.2 steals, 4.1 assists, 2.7 3-pointers and 1.2 blocks per game in her senior season.

Her 2,511 points in Black-and-Gold places her third overall in Bearette history and No. 1 among those that played five-on-five (since 1979).

"I thought she could play a lot as a freshman (at Kentucky) and knew, given the chance, she would be a contributor to their program.” 

After her MVP performance in leading the USA to the FIBA 18U Americas gold medal last summer, Howard's first season in "Blue" saw her earn national attention.

She was a unanimous selection for National Freshman of the Year by espnW, USBWA and WBCA.

Howard was also chosen as the SEC Freshman of the Year by league coaches and SEC Newcomer of the Year by the Associated Press.

She was named a WBCA All-American honorable mention, as well as to the All-SEC First Team and SEC All-Freshman Team.

During the season, Howard was named the SEC Freshman of the Week a record eight times, plus was the National Freshman of the Week by USBWA for the week of December 26.

Before going to Colorado Springs to earn her spot on the current USA 19U World Cup Team, the Bearette for Life played in the USA Women’s 3x3 Championships in Las Vegas, where her team finished second.

Returning to the world stage this summer, Howard carries the banner of our nation, UK and Bradley County high as she goes into international competition. 

— Banner Assistant Sports Editor Joe Cannon contributed to this story.

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