The best point guards are cerebral, developing an almost telepathic connection with teammates, much like the great quarterback-receiver combinations in football. You know where to pass, even before your teammate cuts or flashes or curls into open space. Pe’Shon Howard used to get confused on a few of his Maryland basketball team’s plays, specifically on the secondary break.
But during his one-on-one film sessions with Coach Mark Turgeon, Howard watched film of Texas A&M, Turgeon’s previous stop, then turned the lessons loose during practice. And suddenly everything began to click.
It all culminated Friday night, when Howard turned in a 13-assist, one-turnover performance during Maryland’s 91-74 win over LIU-Brooklyn, as well as a plus-18 during his 32 minutes. After the game, Turgeon said it wouldn’t be fair to expect a baker’s dozen of dishes each night from his junior point guard.
Why not, Howard asked.
“My pride is just being a great teammate,” Howard said. “I watch film, see where guys should be. I could probably try to have 20 assists instead of 13. Just make the game easier for them and more fun for them. They like scoring so I want to make sure they’re happier.”
Against Kentucky in the season-opener, Howard was a shaky 1 for 8 from the field, at times pressing offensively, yet finishing with five assists and just two turnovers. Throughout the preseason, Turgeon implored Howard to shoot, and kept firing at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, thinking that’s what Turgeon wanted.
But Howard took a backseat once the Terps returned home, attempting just two shots against LIU-Brooklyn and zero versus Morehead State. Including the exhibition against Indiana University at Pennsylvania, Howard is shooting 4 for 16 this season. Yet he’s 1 for 2 over 55 minutes in the past two games.
Add that to a 30-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio including the exhibition, and Howard has all but silenced those who called for freshman Seth Allen to replace him in the starting lineup. Sure, Allen provides immense value offensively, but Turgeon’s admitted that his freshman lefty possesses a shoot-first mentality. Howard, on the other hand, is more than content serving as a distributor.
“He’s one of the best passers I’ve played with,” Dez Wells said. “He stands head and shoulders with the guys I’ve played with before. He does a great job. Doesn’t force anything, does with Coach Turgeon asked him to do. I feel like he’s undervalued by the fans and the media. They don’t really know what he brings to us that no other player on this team can bring. He plays this role and he plays it well.
“Really court-savvy. Really smart defender. He plays hard. Veteran guy who plays hard. Each team makes runs. I feel like no other point guard can bring to our team. If bring a scoring point guard, he’ll take the role as a combo guard. We don’t really need that. He scores when necessary, he passes when necessary.”
Howard always jokes with center Alex Len that the Ukrainian import could always understand English, yet feigned ignorance because he “wanted to shoot threes.” Communication between the two, however was never a problem. Howard and Len established an instant connection, something that’s since expanded to include the rest of Maryland’s lineup.
“I want my teammates to be happy, everyone to have fun,” Howard said. “As long as we guard and we’re scoring, I don’t care about my stats.”