August 4, 2018 9:36:36 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Rebounding drills should be plenty of fun for the Mississippi State women's basketball team this season.
The news Thursday that Texas A&M forward Anriel Howard would transfer to MSU wasn't a surprise. It was rumored to be in the works for several months after Howard decided in March to explore options at other schools.
As a graduate transfer, Howard will be eligible to play for MSU immediately, which figures to be a big bonus for MSU coach Vic Schaefer. The Bulldogs' seventh-year head coach faces the challenge of replacing the leadership and production of senior guards Roshunda Johnson, Blair Schaefer, Victoria Vivians, and Morgan William. Schaefer, Vivians, and William were part of the winningest class in program history. They played an integral part in pushing MSU to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA championship game. All four guards also had a hand in making the Bulldogs one of the nation's highest scoring teams and most proficient from 3-point range.
Keep this in mind: Johnson, Schaefer, Vivians, and Johnson combined to take 1,499 of MSU's 2,473 field goal attempts last season. They averaged 48.4 of the Bulldogs' 81.13 points per game.
Howard has the skills and athleticism to help MSU become a different team. Schaefer used the word "different" to describe the makeup of the 2018-19 team prior to Howard's decision to come to Starkville. Her addition gives the Bulldogs added flexibility to play multiple ways.
In three seasons at Texas A&M, Howard, who wasn't available to talk Friday and Saturday, became the first Aggie to grab 1,000 rebounds (1,002). She also has the program's top mark for career rebounding average (9.8 per game).
Last season, Howard (12.2 rebounds per game) finished second to MSU's Teaira McCowan (13.9) in rebounding in the SEC.
"Anriel is one of the top players in the country and a proven veteran in the best conference in the nation, so to be able to add a player like her is really special," Schaefer said in a statement released by the school. "Her experience in our conference will be not only valuable to our team, but it will enable us to use her in a leadership role on and off the floor.
"Anriel is a difference player and a difference person. She will add so much to our university as well as the great state of Mississippi. We are fortunate and blessed to have Anriel as part of our Bulldog family. I know our fans will embrace her and love her in the coming season. She has always been a very difficult player to prepare for, and now it will be great to have her in the Mississippi State Maroon & White."
Howard, a 5-foot-11 forward from Atlanta, averaged 12.1 points per game last season for Texas A&M, which finished 26-10 for its highest win total since 2013-14. Texas A&M made its seventh appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16, and its 13th-consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Howard claimed the Aggies' career double-doubles record with 32 in three seasons, including 20 last season.
As a sophomore in 2016-17, Howard became the first TAMU player since 1988-89 to average a double-double -- 10.2 ppg. and 10.4 rpg. -- for the season. Her rebounding average ranked third in the SEC.
Howard earned a spot on the SEC's All-Freshman Team after averaging 6.5 rebounds. She moved into the starting lineup for 15 of the final 17 games of her rookie season. Howard grabbed an NCAA tournament-record 27 rebounds against Missouri State in the opening round.
It might be hard for Howard to match those numbers with McCowan likely to an even bigger role than the 30.5 minutes per game she logged in the program-record 37-win season.
But Howard likely will take that as a challenge.
Howard's relentless rebounding nature, particularly on the offensive end, helped her build a reputation as one of the toughest players in the SEC. She likely will have a chance to add to an offensive game that showed flashes in her three years as an Aggie.
The 2018-19 Bulldogs will need Howard to hit 15-foot jump shots. They also will need Howard to set screens and to facilitate an attack that needs returning players like Chloe Bibby, Jacaira "Iggy" Allen, and Jazzmun Holmes to play bigger roles and first-year players like Myah Taylor, who redshirted a year ago, Jessika Carter, Xaria Wiggins, and Daphane White to contribute.
The opportunities will be there to grab minutes. Schaefer hasn't hesitated to reward players for their hard work. Howard likely will have a chance to earn significant minutes because she is active and strong enough to guard bigger players. She also is quick enough to be an ideal running mate for Holmes, Taylor, Allen or Jordan Danberry, who likely will be her top competitors for fastest and most athletic on the team.
The question remains whether MSU will be able to stretch defenses and to take advantage of its size and depth in the post. The addition of Howard gives Schaefer another experienced piece that figures to give opponents plenty of headaches.
If you think rebounding battles at MSU practices will be fun, just wait until the start of the regular season. That's when the Bulldogs will look to dominate the backboards like longtime coach Pat Summitt's best teams at Tennessee.
You can bet a coach whose nickname is the "Secretary of Defense" can't wait to see Howard help the Bulldogs be that kind of team.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.