“Being a college basketball player, there’s a lot going on,” Howard said last week. “It’s pretty big-time, so people are always getting at you and stuff like that. I was able to take a break from everybody and reevaluate myself, see where I wanted to be. My first two years have been great, but the end results of the seasons aren’t where I want them to be.”
Howard also missed eight weeks at the start of last season after breaking a bone in his left foot in October. Fourteen games later, he tore his ACL. Yet he wound up tied for fifth in the ACC in assists per conference game and was fifth on the team with 6.5 points per game.
He de-emphasized the timetable for a return, balancing expectations with reality. No problems have resurfaced with his foot, but he still wanted to take his time. There was no reason to rush, not with an entire offseason to heal.
“I enjoyed sitting back and being around my teammates, going home, being around my family, enjoying the process,” said Howard, who likely will be Maryland’s starting point guard in the season opener against defending national champion Kentucky on Nov. 9. “Get my head clear and not put too much pressure on myself.”
As Howard has progressed to full-speed workouts in offseason practices, he’s drawn rave reviews from teammates and coaches. Seth Allen, a fellow point guard, noticed his energy. Coach Mark Turgeon sees a new Howard, a player already better in the past two weeks than he was at any time last season.
As the days away from the court dragging along, Turgeon offered advice. “I know this stinks,” Turgeon would say, “but this will help you.” He told Howard to sit back and study, to watch Turgeon operate, to understand what the team needs from its point guard.
“Sometimes when you are able to practice with a coach, but then get hurt and have to just watch, you become a much better player,” Turgeon said. “Already his leadership skills are much better and he is not as moody on the floor. He has only been back for a week and a half, and we are trying to teach him how to make the easy plays. I expect him to be tremendously better.
There are no budding rivalries between Howard and Allen, the high-flying freshman from Woodbridge who figures to challenge Howard for playing time. Just a fraternal bond sprung from friendship.
Every time they’re together, Allen says, they only talk basketball. Howard dishes out advice like he does assists, preparing Allen to run the team, molding him into a stronger point guard ready to become a college floor general. Allen calls him a big brother. Being an only child, Howard jokes that he doesn’t know the meaning of the term.
“It’s more a brotherly role,” Howard said.
During Maryland’s media day, Allen wrapped up his interviews at a nearby table and noticed that Howard was the only player still speaking to reporters. All the other Terps were by the scorer’s table, joking and attempting to distract center Alex Len from behind a television camera.
So Allen took the card with his name on it, shuffled two feet to his left, plopped down in the next chair and dropped his sign next to Howard’s. Allen flashed a mischievous smirk while Howard answered questions, a tagalong brother watching big bro work. Satisfied with his drop-in appearance, Allen eventually trotted across the court to join his teammates, while Howard looked ahead, barely noticing Allen had crashed the party, too busy self-reflecting on a clear mind and changed leader.