“I’m one of the best players in the country. There shouldn’t be any doubt about that after this season.”
So sayeth University of Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard, and it’s hard to argue with her self-assessment.
A Cleveland, Tenn. native, Howard has been on the fast track to stardom seemingly from her very first collegiate game. She quickly earned the reputation of being a big-game player who is unflappable under pressure, and has been largely tabbed as the favorite to be drafted No. 1 overall in the 2022 WNBA Draft — something that started even before the 2021-22 NCAA season began.
There’s not much higher praise for a collegiate basketball player than hype as a surefire top draft pick, but with a long list of awards and a game that would excite any professional coach, it’s something Howard has earned. Let’s take a look at her substantive resume as a blue-chip WNBA prospect.
Honors and statistics
Howard’s resume through her first three seasons at Kentucky is undeniably impressive. The No. 32 recruit in the class of 2018 and Tennessee’s Miss Basketball, Howard made an immediate impact for the Wildcats, averaging 16.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game in her first season en route to SEC and National Freshman of the Year honors.
From then on, Howard has been a staple on both SEC and national award lists. She was named SEC Player of the Year in both her sophomore (23.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game) and junior (20.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game) seasons, while also finishing as a finalist for the Citizen Naismith Trophy and the Cheryl Miller, Ann Meyers Drysdale, Dawn Staley and Honda Sport Awards. Howard earned All-America Honorable Mentions by the WBCA as a freshman and a sophomore and was named a First-Team All-American as a junior.
Howard also has extensive international experience for a player of her age, winning gold medals in the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship and 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup and a silver medal in the 2019 Red Bull USA Basketball 3x3 Nationals. Most recently, she won gold as part of the 2021 Team USA Women’s AmeriCup Team, playing alongside fellow 2022 WNBA Draft prospects Grace Berger, Veronica Burton, Destanni Henderson, Naz Hillmon and Elissa Cunane.
How she helps the Wildcats
Simply put, Howard has a knack for making the game look easy. At 6-foot-2, she glides across the floor with the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, quicker than most players her height and bigger and stronger than those who aren’t.
Howard has the ability to score at all three levels, and she’s been remarkably consistent at doing so. She’s shot between 43 and 45 percent from the field in each of her three collegiate seasons thus far, with her 3-point shooting efficiency landing between 37 and 39 percent in every season. Those numbers are, of course, coming on high volume: according to Her Hoop Stats, Howard has never ranked below the 97th percentile in total field goals made, and she’s totaled 1,655 points scored in her first three seasons as a Wildcat.
There’s more to Howard’s game than just scoring, though. In her first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Kyra Elzy challenged Howard to improve her playmaking, and Howard responded well: She’s gone from assisting on 17.3 percent of her teammates’ baskets with a 0.96 assist/turnover ratio as a freshman to a 23.6 percent assist rate and 1.78 assist/turnover ratio as a junior — an impressive jump in both areas considering the amount of defensive attention she already draws.
Here’s what makes Howard’s offensive game so special. She initiates much of Kentucky’s offense like your standard point guard — according to Synergy Sports, Kentucky ran a whopping 350 pick and rolls with Howard as the ball handler last season — which, in itself, creates matchup problems for opposing defenses since Howard is too big for most guards to handle one-on-one. While Howard is still going to look to score more often than not, she’s also plenty comfortable finding an open shooter in the corner or slipping a pocket pass neatly to a rolling big.
With the WNBA gradually exploring more non-traditional lineups, a game like Howard’s will have no problem fitting in at the pro level. It’s what separates Howard from the country’s other top scorers — and what will likely make her the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 WNBA Draft.
Watch her play
The Wildcats (6-1) are off to a good start to the 2021-22 season, and have a pair of particularly notable matchups remaining in their non-conference schedule. Kentucky will take on the DePaul Blue Demons on Thursday (SEC Network), and will then play the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals in the Jimmy V Classic on Sunday (ESPN). Both DePaul and Louisville excel at pressuring ball handlers and forcing turnovers, so it will be as good of a test as any for Howard’s playmaking capabilities.
All statistics and team records for the 2021-22 season are current through Dec. 7, 2021.