SEABROOK – Former Paul VI Catholic High School star guard and Suitland native Frank Howard capped off a tremendous junior season for the Syracuse Orange, showing his toughness and motivation to be the player that Head Coach Jim Boeheim was searching for after two seasons of learning the ropes and getting his opportunity to shine when called upon.
Howard consistently got better since appearing in 21 games his freshman year and saw season highs in six statistical categories his sophomore year while only missing one game.
During his junior year, Howard led the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in steals (2.0 SPG), was fifth in assists (5.2 APG) and 13th in scoring (15.2 PPG). Howard scored in double digits 24 times in 27 outings, recorded eight assists against Texas Southern University and recorded a career high in points (25) against the University of Toledo.
The six-foot-five, 205-pound standout showed that same determination to improve on his most productive year, but with a hitch; an ankle injury that would require surgery and impede his development coming into the most pivotal year of his collegiate basketball career.
However, Howard powered through the adversity and made his season debut at home to a raucous ovation against Colgate University after missing the first five games of the season.
Boeheim was hoping for his star player to come back to form after an injury which forced Howard into rehab for months to get back to “square one” without even practicing on the court with his teammates.
On Jan. 14, he did just that after Howard dropped 16 points, led his team in assists (5) and was only four rebounds shy of securing a double-double as the unranked Orange shocked the nation by taking down No. 1 Duke University, 95-91.
It was the first time that Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski lost to an unranked opponent (90-0 prior) at home during his illustrious tenure in Chapel Hill.
“In the second half we fought like crazy, and we missed so many shots,” said Krzyzewski after the game. “The fact is that our kids fought against one of the most veteran teams in the country and well coached. We put our team in the best position to win, and we couldn’t do it.”
Much like Howard’s unwillingness to give up on physical therapy and a grueling recovery regimen to return this season, that same drive translated to his play on the floor against the Blue Devils.
He nailed 12 of Syracuse’s 13 points in the second half putting Syracuse in the driver’s seat to force overtime and knock off the best team in the country.
With just more than 45 seconds remaining in the contest, Howard made a beautiful touch pass to center Paschal Chukwu, extending the lead to four points and the Orange held on for the victory.
“He made big plays,” Boeheim said of Howard down the stretch. “The last play, not many guys can’t make that lob pass, most guys throw it up, and he made a perfect pass. Without those two guys we aren’t even in the game. Frank (Howard) has struggled, but when he plays like that we’re a different team.”
Since he has come back, Howard is only averaging 7.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 3.8 assists per game. However, his bounce-back performance against Duke could prove to be the spark that the Orange needs to reach the NCAA tournament again.
“Last year Frank averaged 15 points per game, and this year it has been six, so I hope he’s back,” Boeheim said. “He showed some signs tonight of being back.”
Boeheim is optimistic that his star guard is on the right track to being the player that he used to be.
“I think he’s better than that,” Boeheim said about Howard slowly getting back to 100 percent after suffering the ankle injury. “Honestly, I think that he can play at least that good or better.”
The Orange are now (12-5, 3-1) and will need to have Howard keep that same level of play up consistently.
When speaking to the local media about his performance and outlook moving forward, Howard said three words that will excite Syracuse supporters.
“I’m definitely back.”