Wed, May 31, 2023 11:46 AM
By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer
COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) — Rhyne Howard isn't willing to rest on her first-year WNBA honors with the Atlanta Dream.
Howard was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft. That's an impressive debut, but when asked how she wants to be viewed in the league, Howard said she wants more.
“I would like them to say that is a one of a kind, like a generational talent,” Howard said Tuesday.
To earn that level of respect, Howard first must help the Dream end their streak of four consecutive losing seasons and return to the postseason for the first time since 2018. Led by the second-year wing player, the Dream (2-2) played like a team on the rise in their runaway 83-65 win over the Chicago Sky on Tuesday night.
Howard scored a game-high 20 points, already her third game with at least 20 points this season. Rookie Haley Jones and offseason addition Allisha Gray each added 13 points, convincing Chicago coach and general manager James Wade that Atlanta is a team to watch.
“They came out great,” Wade said. “They may be the best team in the league. ... They're a top two team in our league.”
Howard is the new face of the Atlanta franchise. Coach Tanisha Wright says the former Kentucky standout is ready to be a face of the WNBA.
While other rookies, including Jones, need time to earn their place in the league, Howard's impact last season was immediate. She was named rookie of the month for each of the season's four months while starting every game, averaging 16.4 points and setting a rookie record by making 85 3-pointers.
Wright says Howard is a rare elite player whose lead role is clear from their first minutes on the court.
“Listen there are players in this league that come in and they’re prepared to play," Wright said. "Ryne Howard, A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Lauren Jackson, right? These are all, you know, Hall of Fame players that came in clearly ready to contribute to their teams. But that’s not necessarily the norm, you know what I mean?"
Even with her coach grouping her with some of the greatest players in league history, Howard doesn't worry about the expectations that come with her success as a rookie.
“I really don’t think too much about it because I don’t want to have that on me because I know nobody else has is putting that pressure on me,” Howard said.
Even All-Stars need help, and the Dream have Gray and Cheyenne Parker also scoring more than 15 points per game this season. The continued emergence of Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft from Stanford, could make it even more difficult for teams to focus their defenses on Howard.
“I definitely think we’re on the rise,” Howard said. “We have so much time to improve and grow. But I am excited for what we’re going to be doing. We just have to start putting the pieces together.”
The dominant win over Chicago provided reason for encouragement.
Wade said attempts to target the versatile Howard were not effective. Howard created space with her step-back move and fadeaway jumper, making 8 of 11 shots from the field. Listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds but introduced as 6-foot-3, Howard also has the size to score near the basket.
“I think she was able to get to her spots,” Wade said. “That was one of the things we talked about, we didn't come out with the focus to stop her. Even though she's a talented player, I thought we could have done a better job.”
Howard also is attracting attention off the court. She threw out the first pitch — a strike, of course — before a recent Atlanta Braves game at Truist Park and is on the cover of the new Slam magazine.
Wright said Howard has “handled it with a lot of grace.”
“She’s done great,” Wright said. "She carries herself like a pro, as she did from day one coming into our organization. And so I think she’s done a really good job of just one, not letting those expectations burden her, because I do think that that happens at times for younger players where they have such lofty expectations or people put expectations on them.
“But she came in knowing who she was and how she can contribute and what she can do and just carried herself in that manner. Nothing too high and nothing too low.”