‘Once-in-a-lifetime player’ Rhyne Howard headlines prospects at 2022 WNBA Draft

Rhyne Howard #10 of the Kentucky Wildcats against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Rupp Arena.
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Rhyne Howard heads to the WNBA Draft on Monday as a potential No. 1 draft pick after ending her collegiate career at Kentucky as a two-time SEC player of the year and the program’s leading three-point shooter in history.

The 21-year-old Howard, who hails from Cleveland, Tenn., also tallied a career total 2,290 points – trailing only Valerie Still on UK’s all-time women’s scoring list – and she’s one of only nine players to become a three-time women’s AP First Team All-American. But according to Kentucky head coach Kyra Elzy, what makes the 6-2 guard such a prized player is her adaptability.

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

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Howard recorded career averages of 20.1 points (20.5 in 31 games over the 2021-22 season), 6.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 33 minutes per game, but her senior season came to an abrupt halt at the 2022 NCAA Tournament, where sixth-seeded Kentucky suffered an upset loss in the first round to No. 11-seed Princeton, 69-62. But several notable stats will linger long after her final-game performance:

  • Howard scored 30 or more points in 10 career games, including three times this past season.
  • Her career-best scoring game came January 2020 when, as a sophomore, Howard scored 43 points in a road win at Alabama to tie a school record set by Jennifer O’Neill vs. Baylor in December 2013 for the most points scored in a game.
  • Howard was Kentucky’s leading rebounder in 60 of her 114 career games, including 15 of her 31 games as a senior.
  • Her career free-throw average was 77.2 percent, featuring a career-best 80.8 percent during her senior season on her highest volume of free throws attempted (135-of-167 this season).
  • Howard played and started in 114 games over the course of her four seasons, including all 31 games this season. She never came off the bench.
  • She made at least one three-pointer in 99 of her 114 career games, including in 26 of 31 games as a senior.

Undoubtedly, a career highlight came at this year’s SEC Tournament, where Howard scored 18 points in Kentucky’s win over eventual national champion South Carolina for its first conference championship title since 1982. Howard’s on-court exploits, however, are just part of what makes her such a great team member, according to Elzy.

“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player. She’s gifted. But more importantly, what she has done for Kentucky basketball,” Elzy said. “What I’m going to miss is the person. She’s very humble, kind-hearted. I’m going to miss her coming to the office and laying on the couch and trying to see what we’re going to do for practice. But she is a great person and that matters to us in our program.”

Howard’s athletic career started in middle school when she began running cross country at the suggestion of her mother, RJ Avery. At age 12, as a seventh grader, she qualified for the high school state meet but by high school, Howard had given up cross country to focus on basketball. She played varsity as an eighth grader, graduating from Bradley Central High School with 2,662 career points and earning honors as the 2018 Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year and Tennessee Miss Basketball.

She picked Kentucky over South Carolina and Purdue, and Howard was the National Freshman of the Year in 2019. As a sophomore she finished second nationally in scoring, averaging 23.4 points per game, and during her junior campaign, she was the only player in the nation to average more 20 points per game with at least 7.3 rebounds per game, 90 assists and 60 steals.

In a personal Instagram post last week, Howard thanked Kentucky’s “Big Blue Nation” and her support network, and also shared her take on her Wildcat career: “I didn’t come to Kentucky to be the school’s second all-time leading scorer, break the 3-point record or be a three-time first-team All-American. I came to Kentucky because I wanted to be surrounded by people that cared more about me as a persona than just what I could accomplish on the basketball court.

“It wasn’t always easy, but every high and every low made me a better player, teammate, friend and person.”

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