Rhyne Howard drafted No. 1 overall in 2022 WNBA Draft; makes UK history


Kentucky Wildcats guard Rhyne Howard (5) smiles after making a 3-pointer during the UK vs. Auburn womens basketball game on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 90-62. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Cole Parke

Kentucky womens basketball star guard Rhyne Howard was selected No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Dream in the 2022 WNBA Draft on Monday.

With Howard going No. 1 overall, Kentucky becomes just the 15th college program to have a player going first overall in the WNBA, after Texas and Oregon both became 13th and 14th in the back-to-back years prior.

Howard played four years at Kentucky, going down in history as one of the best to ever don the UK uniform across both mens and womens basketball.

During her tenure, Howard accumulated 2,290 points, etching her name as the second leading scorer in UK history across both the mens and womens programs.

Looking at single-season accomplishments, Howard was the only player in the country to record 600-plus points, 200-plus rebounds, 100-plus assists, 70-plus steals and 35-plus blocks.

For her impressive senior year, Howard recorded a plethora of awards, including being a finalist for the 2022 WBCA Wade Trophy, the 2022 Cheryl Miller Award, a semi-finalist for the Naismith Trophy Women’s National Player of the Year. She was also featured on the ballot for the Wooden Award as well as the Dawn Staley Award for a third straight year.

She earned first-team honors from a number of sources, being featured as a first-team player for the WBCA, Associated Press, Wooden Award and the United States Basketball Writers Association, joining elite company in Sabrina Ionescu and Brittney Griner as the only three-time First Team All-American honorees.

During her final season at UK, Howard was instrumental in the Wildcats’ 10-game winning streak to close the season, a complete turnaround that landed the team in the NCAA Tournament after earning the second ever SEC Championship in program history, and first in 40 years, with the Cats knocking off eventual national champions No. 1 South Carolina in the SEC title game.

Kentucky’s final home game of the year, usually reserved for ‘Senior Day’ celebrations, was dedicated to the star and dubbed ‘Rhyne Howard Day’.

Howard responded to the honors accordingly, dropping 32 points, the most by any UK senior during a game honoring seniors, by recording a school record eight 3-pointers, with the Wildcats eventually winning 90-62.

Howard’s success was far from exclusive to her senior year, with the Cleveland, Tennessee native averaging over 20 points per game in three of her four seasons, and a double-digit point-per-game total in every season in Blue and White.

During her freshman year in Lexington, Howard brought home eight SEC Freshman of the Week honors, was named a USBWA Freshman of the Week, earned the SEC Freshman of the Year Award from league coaches, was dubbed SEC Newcomer of the Year by the Associated Press and was an honorable mention for the WBCA All-America team.

Howard continued to etch her name into UK’s history books, becoming the highest drafted Wildcat in the WNBA Draft, beating out Evelyn Akhator, who went No. 3 overall to the Dallas Wings in 2017.

Going first overall puts Howard with elite company once again, joining the likes of Ionescue (2020), A’ja Wilson (2018), Griner (2013), Nneka Ogwumike (2012), Candace Parker (2008) and Sue Bird (2002) as players who have gone first.

Howard’s new team, the Dream, went 8-24 in the 2021 season, being one of only four teams to not have a postseason, securing the No. 1 pick via trade with the Washington Mystics after originally possessing the No. 3 pick. Not confident Howard would still be on the board, and likely for good reason, the Dream sent over the third and 14th overall picks.

Howard’s now former coach, Kyra Elzy, felt confident in the star’s ability to turn around whatever team she joins, speaking about the upcoming draft after UK’s 69-62 upset loss to Princeton in the NCAA Tournament.

“Whoever is smart enough to draft her, they’re going to have a talent,” Elzy said. “She’s going to make people better. She’s competitive and her basketball IQ is unbelievable, but it’s her versatility at the next level. She’s a 6 [foot] 2 [inch] guard with a great frame, she can play multiple positions and I think in time she will be the face of the WNBA.”

With those being big shoes to fill, Howard will have her work cut out for her, but the road has been mapped as of Monday, as the new future of the Atlanta Dream has been selected. 

Howard will kick off her professional career in the WNBA likely in the first game of the Dream’s season which is scheduled for Saturday, May 7.