LOS ANGELES – He walked through the glass doors and requested a table for three. Anywhere would do inside this cozy, carpeted coffee shop in the shadows of Los Angeles International Airport.
“It’s a good spot,” Pe’Shon Howard said, paying no mind to the passenger planes that roared overhead. He’s home now, armed with a new attitude and hunting a fresh start, surrounded by old friends and family, at peace with his decision to leave the University of Maryland men’s basketball team after three seasons. He is expected to play his final college season at the University of Southern California.
“It’s a different flow,” said the point guard once nicknamed “Hollywood P.” “More slowed down. It fits me perfect.”
Dire circumstances necessitated the cross-country move. His grandmother grew ill over recent months, besieged by a complicated form of cancer Howard can’t pronounce, he said. She’s still a ball of energy, always insisting on going out for dinner or to the movies, but Howard has to reel her in. He drives her to doctor’s appointments and picks up her prescriptions. He’ll call ahead to restaurants and order takeout.
“It wasn’t that pleasant for either one of us, the conditions and the circumstances,” said Bill Howard, Pe’Shon’s grandfather whom he calls “Dad,” a former hairstylist in Hollywood.
“He’s doing better as he understands her circumstances a little more. He’ll make the adjustment well and accept the responsibility that he will get from it.”
For now, as Howard knifes through breakfast on a cloudy July morning — scrambled eggs, chicken wings and “heavenly Hawaiian” French Toast — he’s discussing his new life, which is really his old life, far away from the East Coast hustle and bustle.
“I grew up here,” Howard said. “I know everybody. I know the roads and all that.”
His phone buzzes. Howard still hasn’t left the Maryland basketball team’s group chat. It’s a former teammate. Does anyone want to hit up the pool today?
By the end of last season, few Maryland fans harbored sympathies for Howard, who started 24 games but labored through shooting inaccuracies, turnover problems and a one-game suspension for the team’s biggest regular season win, against Duke on Feb. 16. After road losses, the players would crowd together on the bus and compare venomous Twitter mentions from fans, laughing off the scorn. The enmity directed toward Howard, he remembers, was routinely the worst.
“I have no problem with Maryland,” Howard said. “I didn’t really produce as well as I, or fans, or [Coach Mark] Turgeon would have liked.
“Here, people don’t care what I’m doing 24/7. Compared to College Park, when I’d get four tweets when people see you going to get McDonald’s. Here, it’s not the same. My Twitter mentions will never be as crazy. It’s cool to be under the radar.”
That won’t be a problem at USC, where football is king. But first-year Trojans coach Andy Enfield’s system fits Howard’s style and persona better than Maryland. Enfield, who took little-known Florida Gulf Coast to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in March before being named USC’s new coach in April, had recruited Howard years ago when he was an assistant coach at Florida State. Two of his Trojans assistants — Tony Bland and Jason Hart — also hail from Los Angeles, where Pe’shon grew up and Bill used to play pickup games years ago. During summer workouts, Enfield’s guards practice alley-oops, a hallmark of his high-flying “Dunk City” days at Florida Gulf Coast.
Howard’s transfer to USC isn’t yet official, but it is expected: He has rented an apartment across the street from Galen Center, where the Trojans play. Through a spokesman, the school declined comment on both Howard’s recruitment and the status of his hardship waiver, which Howard is seeking in order to play this season instead of sitting out a year as a transfer. According to Howard, he asked the school to keep mum on his status, to avoid the unwanted attention.
“It’s a new start,” he says. “I want to be at home, enjoy it, enjoy my time with my family. I guess I was just trying to keep the attention off them.”
He pauses, dusting powdered sugar off his black track pants and Oak Hill Academy T-shirt. Then he shrugs and smiles again.
“I guess I’m growing up.”
A line has formed outside the door as Howard exits the coffee shop. He may start summer school and is hopeful the NCAA approves his hardship waiver, so he can play for USC immediately. If not, then he’ll finish his undergraduate degree and train for a year, flying even lower beneath the fray, in the city he’s always called home.
“I think a lot of people were worried about how I’d do,” Howard said. “Maybe I was myself.”