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March 9, 2013
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – At least 50 percent of getting something done is wanting to get it done.
Like grabbing rebounds. Just ask Richard Howell of NC State.
“It’s all about effort,” explained the 6-foot-8 senior. “If you want the ball, you’ve got to go hard for it no matter what. You can’t let your opponent or anything else get in the way. Most of the time I can be in the right spot at the right time but at the same time I feel if I want the ball, I’m going to have to get it.
“One of the things I have a very good sense of is my instincts. I know I have a good feel of when the ball is going to jump off the rim and where. I kind of assume where it’s going to go and I follow it as hard as I can.”
Howell’s determination on the backboards has helped him become the top rebounder in the ACC this season at 10.7 per game. Within league play, he’s even better – 11.5 per game. And nationally, after Wednesday’s game against Wake Forest, he ranks sixth.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said Howell has the tools for rebounding, which include excellent hands, great anticipation of where the ball is going to be and knowing how to get good position.
“But I think more than anything, it comes down to having the tools but also having the desire,” Gottfried said. “I think he’s got both.”
Howell’s prowess as a rebounder started at an early age growing up in Marietta, Ga., and began to expand when he got to NC State.
“Ever since I started playing basketball I’ve always felt I had a knack for rebounding,” he said. “When it really started becoming noticeable was my freshman year. I didn’t play that much, maybe only a minute or two at a time, but I always came out of the game with two or three rebounds. That’s when it picked up a little bit.”
Howell started just once as a freshman and in just 13.6 minutes per game he averaged 4.6 rebounds. His pace picked up as a sophomore when he made just eight starts but averaged 6.5 rebounds in 18.2 minutes per game.
By his junior year, his stamina had improved and so did his understanding of the game. Last season he hit his stride, starting all 37 games, playing 27 minutes per game and averaging 9.2 rebounds. This year, in 31.2 minutes per game, his rebounds have continued to rise.
Howell weighs 257 pounds so he’s a solid physical presence around the boards. But he gives up three to four inches to players in the league such as Duke’s Mason Plumlee, Maryland’s Alex Len, Georgia Tech’s Daniel Miller and Miami’s Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson, who are all around the seven-foot mark.
“Honestly, I think it’s fun,” he said about matching up against taller players. “It’s definitely a challenge when you’re not as tall as everybody else down there. I don’t play against 7-footers every day so when I do I like to go as hard as I can.”
This season Howell pulled down a career high 19 rebounds against Norfolk State. Within the ACC, he grabbed 18 against Duke, 17 against North Carolina and 16 against both Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
He now has 996 for his career and sometime during State’s regular-season finale Saturday at Florida State he should become the fifth Pack player to go over 1,000 rebounds (Ronnie Shavlik at 1,508, Tommy Burleson with 1,066, Mel Thompson at 1,063 and Bobby Speight at 1,057 are the others). Depending on how many games the Pack plays in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, Howell could finish as high as second.
Howell’s game is not limited to just hitting the boards. He is a steady scorer, ranking second on a balanced team at 12.8 points, and he converts 56 percent of his shots. He gets a lot of points on follow shots, of course, but he has added a mid-range jumper that he’ll hit with consistency.
“Yeah, he’s improved his shooting … with that mid-range jump shot,” Gottfried said. “He’s also improved as a foul shooter, where now when he goes to the line he’s taking advantage of those opportunities and getting points, as well.”
Howell had a spectacular first half recently against Georgia Tech, scoring 18 points. But he didn’t score in the second half, taking only two shots.
“The ball was just going in the hole,” he said with a laugh. “I really don’t have an explanation of why I didn’t shoot a little bit more in the second half. I felt like I just didn’t have the opportunities they were giving me in the first half.
“But I had a lot more opportunities to rebound and come up with more steals in the second half. So I just did the little things that I could in the second half to help us win the ball game.”
Against Wake Forest in the final home game of his career, Howell had a quiet game with nine points and five rebounds. Early foul trouble limited him to just 21 minutes. But he ended his home career with a dunk shot on a pass from Lorenzo Brown. And the Pack won, 81-66, in a game that was never really close in the second half.
That was State’s sixth win in its last seven games as it show signs of rounding into the team that was the preseason pick as No. 1 in the league.
“I do feel like we’re playing well,” Howell said, “but by no means are we satisfied. We could be playing a lot better and we’ve very much better than our record (22-8) shows. I think we all know that and we see it in practice every day. We just have to go out and prove it to the world.”
One big reason is the players coming together and helping each other on the court. The other is better, although still inconsistent, defense.
“Everybody knows that we can score but it’s a big question mark whether we can play defense,” Howell said. “I feel like we can really shut people down and we want to carry that over into the ACC and the NCAA tournaments.
“It’s the first thing we talk about in practice and the last thing we talk about. It’s one of the things we really need to pick up because we know we can go with anybody; we just need the ability to stop them.”
If State is really gearing up for a strong postseason, Howell will have a lot to do with what happens the remainder of the season.
“With Richard, for our team, the most impressive thing is his consistent, competitive nature,” Gottfried said, “and that garners a lot of respect from his teammates, from opponents, from coaches, from everybody. And I think that’s one thing he's given our team is that stability, knowing that he competes every night. And I like that about him.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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