Pull out quote:“This (the USA U18 team) will be something she will always remember. She will be able to tell her kids and grandkids about." — Bearette head coach Jason Reuter.Leading the storied …
Pull out quote:
“This (the USA U18 team) will be something she will always remember. She will be able to tell her kids and grandkids about." — Bearette head coach Jason Reuter.
Leading the storied Bradley Central Bearettes to a state Final Four run in March may have capped Rhyne Howard’s phenomenal prep hoops career, but she sure hasn’t rested on her laurels.
The Miss Tennessee Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year has been on the go constantly while finishing up her high school days, showing her talents on national and international stages.
Making trips to New York to play in the Jordan Brand Classic in April as well as her second straight year playing in the Border Global Games in Canada, where she won Most Valuable Player honors in May, Howard just got back from Colorado where she earned her highest honor yet — getting chosen as a member of the USA 18-under National Team.
“I went up there and did enough to get noticed. I worked my butt off,” stated the 6-foot-2 superstar who is the only Tennessee player to make the 12-member squad. “I don’t want to disappoint. I don’t want to make the United States look bad, so I am going to compete my strongest.”
“We had good chemistry every time we stepped on the court. We clicked as soon as we got there the whole weekend. A lot of the girls on Team USA played (with her) in the Jordan Brand Classic, too.”
The USA 18U team members will return to Colorado Springs for training camp on July 20, before departing for the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, which will be held Aug. 1-7, 2018, in Mexico.
The eight teams competing in the championship will include the United States, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, El Salvador, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, who all earned automatic berths after their respective U17 championships.
USA women's teams boast of a remarkable 53-2 overall record in U18/Junior qualifiers and have won gold in 1988, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016; while capturing silver medals in 1992 and 1996.
“We were really, really impressed with how all of the players at (the) trials competed,” said Jennifer Rizzotti, chair of the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee, which is responsible for selecting the athletes and coaches for the USA U18 National Team.
“How they were prepared every day to come in and compete, how coachable they all were and how good of teammates they were to each other, which made our job a little bit harder. But at the same time, it makes us feel confident that we are giving this coaching staff a group that is really going to be ready and prepared to compete for a gold medal.
“We put together a very versatile, strong and mature team,” Rizzotti added. “There was a lot of depth at every position for this team and lot of players that can play multiple positions. We know the way that Jeff (Walz) wants to play, and so we tried to give him a lot of versatility.”
“What a wonderful group that we had out here competing for the U18 team,” said USA U18 head coach Jeff Walz, who is also the head coach at the University of Louisville. “It was a group that competed in every single scrimmage. They went out and did exactly what they were asked to do. The energy level was fantastic. It was a remarkable three days of trials.”
“There’s going to be tough competition (at the FIBA Americas Championship), but I think we will push through and win the fight for a gold medal,” Howard proclaimed. “Making this team is the highest honor I have received. I want to make our country proud.”
“There is an extremely high chance that we are witnessing a girl doing something that we will not see again or for a long, long time,” declared Bradley Central head coach Jason Reuter. “There’s always firsts for everything. She is the first Bradley Countian to ever play for the USA 18-and-under national team.”
“She was the first from here to play in the Jordan Brand All-Star Game. She was our first Gatorade Player of the Year, but I say that with a remembrance to a lot of great players who didn’t have those opportunities.
“She is the second Miss Basketball from Bradley Central,” he added in reference to Brittany Jackson winning it in 2001. Former Bearettes Paige Redman, Amy (Geren) McGowan, Brooke (Copeland) Jackson and Jackie (Pickel) Davis were also Miss Tennessee finalists.
“There’s a greater opportunity now for all female athletes that a lot didn’t have in the past. We need to remember those who went before you and broke the ground.
“The Jordan Brand Classic was unbelievable and the Miss Basketball Award, but the top of it all has to be the USA 18-and-under national team. They only picked 12 girls,” related Reuter.
“It’s not someone nominating you on a sheet of paper, these are head (NCAA) Division-I coaches that are watching you for three days.
“They picked the best team they could put on the floor. A big percentage of these girls could be future Olympians. What a great honor it is. She (Howard) is the best all-around player I’ve coached,” the Bearette mentor assessed.
“I would be very surprised if another player comes through Bradley County with her overall ability. Look at the growth of her strength and maturity from her freshman to senior years.
“She kept working and kept herself around good people. There is a lot more to this than just basketball. She kept her grades up (graduating with a 3.62 GPA) and made good decisions. She is not perfect, but she was close enough to it for me. I would love to have her back.”
After being sought by more than 30 top D-I schools, including the national champion South Carolina squad, Howard picked the University of Kentucky for her collegiate career.
“I know Kentucky feels lucky to get Rhyne Howard,” remarked Reuter. “They felt that way before she even made Team USA. They told me they thought they had one of the best players in the United States.
“They go all across the map and believed she was one of the top. They said if you let them pick their choice of top players in the country that she without question would make any one team of the best players in the nation.
“This (making the USA 18U team) is not just big for Bradley County and Bradley Central High School, this is big for the University of Kentucky to have their name listed.
“Five of the girls on Team USA are going to (reigning national champ) Notre Dame or (perennial powerhouse) Connecticut. She (Howard) is the only SEC girl on the team. Kentucky is super proud to have Rhyne. This just solidifies to them what they already knew she was,” Reuter commented.
“I want to win a lot of games at Kentucky,” proclaimed Howard. “Next year will be better for sure for them and I want to play wherever they need me.”
During her four years at Bradley, she led the Bearettes to 119 wins, including winning streaks of 32 and 33 games, against just 12 losses, including a 55-1 record against fellow District 5-AAA teams.
A four-year All-District and All-Region performer, as well as two-time all-stater, she was the unanimous choice for 5-AAA Player of the Year her final three seasons, while twice being a Miss Tennessee Basketball finalist.
Her 2,511 points is the most of any Bearette in the 5-on-5 era (since 1978) and third most in Bradley girls’ history behind just Data Caldwell and Liz (Hannah) Jackson. She had also scored 151 varsity points as an eighth-grader at East Hamilton before moving to Bradley County.
She pull down 969 rebounds, copped 558 steals, handed out 554 assists and blocked 194 shots while wearing the Black-and-Gold.
She scored 25 or more points 27 times during her prep career, topping out at 41 twice.
A Naismith All-American honorable mention, Howard was ranked as the eighth-best player in the country by All-Star Girls’ Report, as well as being a 5-star recruit according to all of the national rating services.
As the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and nominee for the National POY award, she directed her $1,000 donation from the company to the local Special Olympics program.
Along with a pair of TSSAA State Tournament appearances, her Bearette squads also won back-to-back championships at the prestigious Andrew Johnson Bank Ladies’ Classics in Greeneville, in which she was the MVP in both, plus three straight Holiday Inn Express Thanksgiving Tournament titles.
They also swept the Murfreesboro Classic her freshman season, as well as the Marlin Christmas Tournament in Panama City, Fla., her sophomore year.
“Bradley County has shown me so much support,” remarked Howard. “Everyone is happy for me and has been so nice.”
Planning to report to Kentucky on June 18, she will have about a month with the Lady Wildcats before returning to Colorado to prepare for the FIBA Americas U18 Championships.
When her time in Mexico is done, Howard will head to Italy to rejoin the Kentucky squad, which will be on a 10-day educational trip during which they will play three games against international competition.
Her international travels will continue when the Lady Wildcats open the 2018-19 campaign at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands Nov. 22-24, where they will play against South Florida, North Carolina and UCLA.
“This (the USA U18 team) will be something she will always remember,” Reuter remarked. “She will be able to tell her kids and grandkids about.
“We just mailed her (Bradley Central) jersey to the (Women’s Basketball) Hall of Fame in Knoxville. It’s going to be hanging in there for the next year and it may be in there forever someday. They requested that before she made the national team,” he related.
“If she keeps the same determination, she has a chance to play for money (professionally) after her time at the University of Kentucky.
“I am excited to see what the future holds,” Reuter concluded. “We will be talking and reading about her one day as a future pro.”
— Banner Sports Writer Patrick MacCoon and Bradley sports historian Gary Ownbey contributed to this story.
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