Senior point guard Frank Howard is playing the best basketball of his career

first_imgCHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thirty minutes before tip-off, down a hallway in the bowels of the Spectrum Center, Frank Howard corralled his teammates in a circle. He shook his arm and raised it in the air. He nodded his head.Before Syracuse’s 84-72 loss to Duke, he stood, a little sweaty, ready to lead the Orange onto the floor with a chance to beat the third-seeded Blue Devils for the second time this season. As usual, he led layup lines and shot first, always a floater off the glass.All season, he’s been that figure, the one to rally the team together. On the court, he leads pre- and mid-game huddles. He’s the lone vocal leader on a team of mostly introverts. He knew a second-straight game without Tyus Battle meant he’d have to push forward.Then he turned it on. Howard, a senior, scored a career-high 28 points in SU’s (20-13, 10-8 Atlantic Coast) ACC tournament quarterfinal loss to Duke (27-5, 14-4). As the crowd gasped with Zion Williamson’s breakaway dunks and steals, Howard quietly assembled a career night by scoring, racking up a pair of steals, contesting shots at the top of the zone and shooting 4-for-9 from deep to extend the SU offense. He nearly matched Williamson’s game-high 29 points.In the absence of junior guard Battle, who’s likely to return for the NCAA Tournament next week, Howard attacked the basket with more frequency and power. The two conference tournament games represented Howard at his best: a true floor general who can score. Stripped away of his previous turnover and scoring issues, and stripped away of the perception that he’s an on-and-off leader, Howard showed the best of himself.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“This is how I got here in the summer, able to attack, hit shots at this rate,” he said on Thursday. “I really feel comfortable now. I wasn’t able to find my rhythm earlier in the year.”Howard’s showing against the Blue Devils followed-up an 18-point outing against Pittsburgh a day prior. He showed again why he’s the best perimeter defender on the team. He closed out on shooters, picked up a pair of steals, made passes more difficult and positioned himself to close off driving lanes. He attacked the basket with less hesitation, and he stepped into a few shots with no second-guessing. The mid-range pull-up, the 3-point shot — both were there.In the final games of his college career, Howard has turned himself into the player he showed he could be. Glenn Farello, Howard’s coach at Paul VI (Virginia) High School, noticed Howard shooting more with his legs. He’s become the scorer those around him predicted.He has established himself as an engine of the offense, a characteristic he developed last March and flashed this year. He’s not near last season’s average (14.4 points per game), and his field goal percentage is down slightly. But after the Duke game, his points per outing jumped from 8.2 to 8.9.“I try to be confident regardless,” he said of his earlier struggles this year, “but I feel much better now.”Injuries have obscured his career. While playing in an AAU tournament, he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. At SU, he’s had two surgeries, to his groin and ankle. The latter came last fall and forced him to miss significant time early this season. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said he rarely missed shots last summer.This was supposed to be the year he built on his junior campaign. Instead, he finished some games as a non-factor, including two conference games in which he didn’t score. During the final three regular-season games, he scored a grand total of 15 points.The long stretches where Howard wasn’t able to do much ate at him, he and his father, Jonathan, said. He knew he could do more. An Eastern Conference NBA scout recently called him a “project at the point guard position for years.” Several NBA scouts said he will not get a chance to play in the NBA. “He’s got an intriguing physical profile,” another scout said, “but not the IQ. He can’t shoot.”That was before the last two games. He’s increased his workload with assistant coach Gerry McNamara, a former SU guard, with a focus on playing downhill. Attacking the rim. Flowing into shots versus catching and shooting as if they’re unattached movements. Howard and the Orange believe that, at his full self, he can score 20 points and limit his turnovers. He turned over the ball six times against Duke, so his outing wasn’t perfect. But he remains committed to taking shots in the flow of the game.“I think he’s more of a scorer now than he has been in a long time, and this is what I thought he would do early in the year until he got hurt,” Boeheim said on Thursday. “This is the way he was shooting the ball. Going into the tournament, getting Tyus back, that gives us a little bit more offense back there.”Howard is, more often than not, placed in one of two categories: the kick-start to the offense who works in tandem with Battle and the turnover-prone, irrelevant scoring guard that scouts have cast aside. The kick-start has been to a Final Four and the Sweet 16 and appeared in Charlotte for his last conference tournament.With only an NCAA Tournament run left, he has one last shot to leave a legacy at Syracuse. His rebirth could coincide with the most important of his career.“I finally got my body right to feel comfortable to attack,” Howard said. “That’s just what I’ve been trying to do: get in the lane and make some plays. I’ve been feeling really good getting back to my normal self taking control of some games.” Published on March 15, 2019 at 3:00 pm Contact Matthew: mguti100@syr.edu | @MatthewGut21 Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Commentslast_img read more