Rhyne Howard is ready to lead in her last year as a Wildcat


Kentucky Wildcats guard Rhyne Howard (10) fights for possession of the ball during the University of Kentucky vs. Alabama women’s basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 81-68. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Jaron Centers

Three seasons ago, Rhyne Howard played her first game as a Kentucky Wildcat. The six-foot-two star from Chattanooga, Tennessee, immediately established herself as one of the best players in the nation, unanimously winning SEC Freshman of the Year and First-Team SEC.

Since then, Howard has set numerous school records, becoming a two-time SEC Player of the Year and two-time All-American.

In her final season as a Wildcat, despite all of the accolades she’s received, Howard is still playing with something to prove.

“This year, I’m playing to show everyone that I am the best player on the court, and leave no doubt about it that I’m working hard and giving it all that I’ve got for myself and my teammates,” Howard said.

To achieve that, Howard has been putting in the time over the off-season to perfect her craft.

“I’m really just working on tuning up the skills that I have, extending my range on the three-point line, shooting better at the free-throw line, finishing with contact and just the small details that help win games,” Howard said. 

As for her nutrition and conditioning, Howard says she feels like she’s “in the best shape of her life,” crediting head strength and conditioning coach Lee Taylor with her development this offseason.

“I can definitely feel that I’ve gotten stronger and faster,” she said. “I feel like I look better, like everyone is telling me, ‘Dang, Rhyne, you look good this year.’ With coach Taylor, he’s pushing us out of our comfort zones so much that we really have no choice but to get stronger. It’s just a mental thing and being able to hold yourself accountable.”

In addition to the work Howard has put in personally, her time with USA Basketball’s 2021 AmeriCup team this summer gave her an opportunity to play against top talent from around the world. 

“It gave a great outlook, learning from someone as great as coach [Dawn] Staley in how she looks at the game and coaches,” Howard said. “When we were playing, we were playing against grown women, so for me to compete against people who were 30 and up, it was great because that’s who I’m gonna be playing against when I get to the league.”

Howard played her first two seasons for longtime UK head coach Matthew Mitchell before his surprise retirement last season due to health issues. The departure led to the immediate naming of Kyra Elzy as head coach during a season that was anything but normal. The team managed to finish 18-9 with a second-round exit in the NCAA tournament. 

With around half a season under Elzy’s belt, Howard says Elzy “knows what to expect” coming into her first full year. 

“This year, [Elzy is] straight to the point, more about business and making sure we know what we need to be doing or we’re going to lose, straight like that. She’s definitely holding us more accountable for our actions and when we do something wrong on the court, she’s going to point it out and make sure it doesn’t happen next time,” Howard said.

With a big role to take on this season, Howard says her teammates are her main motivation in what she’s playing for this year. 

“They’re so confident in me and they all want the best for me. They’re all like, ‘Rhyne, I’m so proud of you,’ and they tell me that I can be good,” Howard said. “I don’t want to let them down because they’re looking up to me, but I also look up to them. I can just give them the ball and get them out of the way. They really keep me going, and I don’t know where I’d be without them.” 

For her team’s goals, Howard says, “they never change — SEC Championship, Final Four, National Championship — very much things we can accomplish.” 

Howard, with a smile on her face, left no doubt that she’s confident in her team’s potential this year.

“Y’all will see during the season,” she said.