After Impressive Freshman Season at Kentucky, Rhyne Howard Goes for Second USA Basketball Gold Medal
A 6-foot-2 guard, Rhyne Howard had an exceptional first season at the University of Kentucky this past year, garnering National Freshman of the Year awards while averaging a team-leading 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
But, all it did was make her hungry for more.
“It was an honor to be recognized for all the hard work I put in. It was a great feeling,” Howard said. “And it inspired me to do better next year and even after that.”
Howard said her coaches at Kentucky helped her a lot — “They know what I need to do and how I can get better” — but she was a superb player before getting to college as well. She was so good in high school that she made the 2018 USA U18 National Team after her senior year and led the team to the FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal, also picking up tournament MVP honors.
And now she will be playing for the USA U19 World Cup Team that will take to the court later this month in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Howard, who grew up in Cleveland, Tennessee, got her start in basketball around third grade through her mother, Rhvonja Avery, who played at the University of Florida.
“She coached me all the way to high school,” said Howard, who was named the Tennessee Player of the Year and Tennessee Miss Basketball her senior year at Bradley Central High School.
While she was not that far from Knoxville, Tennessee, and the great University of Tennessee Volunteers, Howard says the Vols came up late in her recruiting process and so says she didn’t really want to go there. Three other colleges recruited her: the University of Kentucky, Purdue University and the University of South Carolina. She chose Kentucky partly because it had what she called “such a friendly environment.”
Howard was so good at Kentucky last season that in addition to those Freshman of the Year awards, she also was named the SEC Freshman of the Week eight times. She scored 25 points with 12 rebounds in one game against North Carolina, one of five double-doubles she recorded on the year. Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell told a reporter earlier this year that Howard has had a tremendous impact on the team.
“She's been an unbelievable addition to our program,” Mitchell said. “She’s been a great person, a great person to coach and she’ll just get better from it."
Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who coached Howard with the U18 team, also said last season that she’s a “big-time player” who is only “going to get better.”
“What Rhyne brings to the table is experience,” Walz said. “She’s a player who was an integral part of the U18 team last year. She understands what international basketball is all about. Obviously, we all know the U19 World Cup is a bigger stage with tougher competition. But, with the experience she had with the U18s and then the year she had with Kentucky this past year, earning SEC Freshman of the Year, I think she’s plenty prepared for this.”
Howard also played in the 2019 Red Bull USA Basketball 3x3 Nationals this past May and led her team to the silver medal, scoring 11 of 20 points in the championship game. Asked how playing 3x3 compared to regular basketball, Howard said, “I think it’s about the same. There is more freedom, though. You can do a little bit more on 3x3, because there aren’t as many bodies on the court.”
All that experience Howard has had with the U18s, in 3x3 and with the Kentucky Wildcats will play a role in helping the U19 team get back to the final of the World Cup. For instance, there will be six high school players on the team, including six 17-year-olds, so Howard will represent something of a veteran presence.
“I think it’s going to help, because I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot with the college coaches that the underclassman haven’t experienced yet,” she said. “So it helps me lead better and show them what to do and what not to do.”
In addition to playing with USA Basketball and Kentucky, Howard expects to play in the WNBA one day and also considers the Olympic Games a possibility. Considering the track of her career thus far, it’s certainly a reasonable goal.
“I think it was just my love of the game and being so hard on myself (that got me to this point),” she said. “I just tried to keep myself to do good.”