There’s a certain snarl that comes with every one-handed Richard Howell rebound.
It fits with the N.C. State senior forward’s gruff, "get out of my way" on-court persona.
There have been ups and downs for the Wolfpack this season, but Howell has been the constant. The Wolfpack would not be preparing for Temple on Friday in the NCAA tournament without that surly version of Howell, who turned in an All-ACC senior season.
There’s also a softer side to Howell, one he showed with the way he held his 2-year-old daughter, Milani, when he was honored on Senior Night before N.C. State’s last home game.
And if you look closely at Howell’s right wrist, he has the words "love, live, laugh" tattooed in honor of his late sister, Brianna.
You could say, off the court, Howell is something of a softie.
"I don’t know about all that, do that at your own risk," N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie said. "I wouldn’t call him a softie. He’s not like a teddy bear or anything."
Pack’s unsung hero
Great. Tremendous. Terrific. Beast.
"You run out of adjectives for that guy," coach Mark Gottfried said after Howell had 18 points in the first half of N.C. State’s 70-57 win at Georgia Tech on March 3.
Georgia Tech’s Brian Gregory, Clemson’s Brad Brownell, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — twice — have taken turns praising Howell this season.
Howell, listed at 6-8 and 250 pounds, gave them all good reason. He led the ACC with 10.7 rebounds per game and was even better in league play with 11.4 per game.
The senior from Marietta, Ga., via New York, became the fifth player in school history with 1,000 rebounds.
He was first N.C. State player to lead the ACC in rebounding since Tom Gugliotta in 1991-92 and the first to average double-figure rebounds in a season since Kenny Carr 1975-76. He was also a first-team All-ACC selection, N.C. State’s first since guard Julius Hodge in 2003-04.
After Howell finished with 18 rebounds, and 16 points, in State’s 84-76 win over Duke on Jan. 12, Krzyzewski gushed about not only Howell’s rebounding skill but his unselfishness.
Again, after Howell scored 23 points in a road loss to Duke, Krzyzewski went out of his way to compliment Howell.
"Of all the players in our league, he’s the unsung hero, the unsung great player in our league," Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 98-85 win on Feb. 7.
"He is such an easy guy to play with, he puts up amazing efficient numbers, big time numbers. That kid is terrific. He’s just absolutely terrific."
Howell’s not much for individual recognition, he’d rather talk about the team, but he said he was taken aback by Krzyzewski’s praise.
"I’ll never forget something as valuable as that," Howell said. "It’s definitely a good feeling to know someone like that said that."
More minutes, more production
More than anything else, Howell was happy that he had the chance this season to show everyone what he could do.
Foul trouble hampered his junior season, even as he helped N.C. State end a five-year drought from the NCAA tournament.
Howell’s numbers went up in his junior season, when he averaged 9.2 rebounds and 10.8 points, but his minutes (27 per game) were limited by consistent foul trouble. He has actually fouled out of more games (six) this season but has 40 fewer fouls (102) than last season and he averaged about 7 more minutes per ACC game.
Howell attributes his ability to stay out of foul trouble to being smarter. He knows when to take chances on defense, especially on the perimeter where he got into trouble going for too many steals last season, and he has been smarter around the basket with the ball. He has used his mid-range shot more rather than risk a charging foul.
"It’s definitely a learning process," Howell said.
One final act
The physical changes the past two seasons – Howell has dropped almost 25 pounds since his sophomore season – aren’t the only differences in Howell’s makeup since he arrived four years ago.
There’s a level of urgency to Howell’s game. Some of that can be chalked up to being senior and making the most of a last opportunity. Some of that can be attributed to the universal motivation to take care of your family.
"Richard has matured and not just physically but emotionally, too," Gottfried. "He has become very reliable, steady, consistent."
With his improved play, Howell has put himself in position to find a home in the NBA, maybe not as a first-round pick but as a rebounding specialist. Kenneth Faried and DeJuan Blair have found a niche in the NBA, and Howell’s senior season has had its moments when he looks like Charles Oakley’s younger brother.
Howell fits the undersized yet effective rebounder mold, but he has ways to make up for his lack of height.
"He’s so strong and he has quick hands," Leslie said. "I’d say about 75 percent of rebounding is just the will and the mentality that you want to get it."
There’s no denying Howell has played with that will and edge all season. He hopes the NBA notices, but he’s more concerned about the NCAA tournament.
He shone in the early rounds last season in Columbus, Ohio, with 22 points in the Pack’s first win over San Diego State. He wants to make sure Temple gets his best shot.
"I’ve just got to go out with a bang," Howell said. "And then hopefully the NBA will come calling."