Rhyne Howard looks to follow historic rookie season at UK


Freshman guard Rhyne Howard dribbles the ball into the paint. University of Kentucky women’s basketball team lost to South Carolina 74-70 at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb| Staff

She was the 2018-2019 National Freshman of the Year, she had one of the best rookie seasons in program history and she was named 2019-2020 preseason All-SEC.

She’s Rhyne Howard, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard who has big goals for the new season.

“(I want to be) a contender for player of the year, but even if I don’t, we just want to win an SEC Championship,” Howard told reporters at media day.

Last season, the former Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year totaled a team-best 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and finished second on the team in made three-pointers with 74. She can do just about everything, which poses a serious threat to opposing teams. Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell expects opponents to have to adjust to Howard’s play-making abilities.

“Great ball handler, big, strong, athletic,” Mitchell said. “If you try to face guard her she’s athletic enough that we can find a way to get her the ball and then, she is just one of the best passers on the team, one of the best shooters on the team and then can really make an impact on the boards and defensively.”

Mitchell said the Cats will have to be mindful and adjust to how teams are changing their game plans around Howard, and says the challenges will be “substantial.”

“We’ve got a really tough schedule and some really smart coaches,” Mitchell said. “Rhyne just has to show up every day, what we’ve stressed with her is showing up as the best Rhyne Howard she can be and everything else will take care of itself so she, I think has done a good job with that.”

The list of accolades for Howard’s rookie season goes on and on, and she said she exceeded expectations she had for herself going into her freshman year.

“I think I did better (last year) than I thought I would,” Howard said. “I had Freshman of the Year as a goal, but I didn’t think I would just kill it like that.”

Howard did, in fact, “kill it,” and just like any returning player, she says that having her first season of SEC basketball under her belt should give her an extra edge. The SEC is no easy league, but knowing what to expect is half the battle.

“We know that teams are going to be tough, we know they’re going to be well-prepared for us and we have to be well-prepared for them,” Howard said. “We just have to stay focused on what we’re trying to do and just execute what we want.”

Mitchell pointed out that he’s challenged Howard over the offseason that a player like her isn’t going to just fly under the radar, and she has to learn to handle the responsibility that may lie on her shoulders.

“Now we just talked about her understanding that when you are the kind of player that she is, some people are looking at you and there’s some responsibility there to carry yourself in the right way,” Mitchell said.” And she has no trouble carrying herself with great class and kindness to her teammates.”