STARKVILLE — Anriel Howard isn’t a one-dimensional player.
That might be hard to believe considering Howard’s knack for rebounding helped her earn so much acclaim in the last three years at Texas A&M.
But MSU women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer wants everyone to know Howard is much more than a rebounder.
“I think she is contagious with her energy and with her attitude and with her presence,” Schaefer said.
That’s a good sign for a team that lost four starters following a program-record 37-win season and a second-consecutive trip to the national title game. Howard will get her first chance to display her infectious spirit at 6 p.m. Friday when No. 6 MSU plays host to Central Missouri, the reigning NCAA Division II national champion, in an exhibition game at Humphrey Coliseum.
Last month at the SEC Media Day, Schaefer said there was no doubt Howard was going to “impact” the program. He cited her experience as something the Bulldogs couldn’t put a value on.
“What she has really brought to the table that has been so valuable to us is a work ethic every day,” Schaefer said last month. “She brings it every day. She brings a smile on her face and she really brings a work ethic, a toughness that really fits our program.”
Schaefer elaborated on that point Thursday when he said he knew Howard had an opportunity to go to a number of schools after she completed her undergraduate studies at Texas A&M. He said he understands Howard has aspirations to play professional basketball after this season, which is why he wants to make sure he and his coaches do everything they can to help her grow her game.
Schaefer said Howard, who arrived in Starkville in August, continues to adjust to the environment and her teammates. He said she has done a great job navigating those waters and building relationships.
McCowan has seen Howard’s energy spread throughout the team, especially in practice.
“She is very contagious,” McCowan said. “She comes into practice every day and is ready to get after it. If she is on your team, she is going to push you. She has another motor. If you’re going against her, you can’t take it easy.”
Howard said adapting to a new group of teammates, a new offense, and a new defense hasn’t been as difficult as she thought it would be. She praised her coaches and teammates for helping her to fit in. When told Schaefer called her “contagious,” she thanked him and said she wants to do everything she can to realize her goals so she can show people she is much more than a rebounder.
Earlier this week, the Southeastern Conference coaches named McCowan as the league’s Preseason Player of the Year and made Howard a preseason first-team All-SEC pick.
Last season, Howard eclipsed 1,000-career rebounds after registering a double-double for the second-straight year (12.1 points, 12.2 rebounds). Howard had 20 double-doubles in 2017-18 to give her 32 in her career. The 5-foot-11 forward from Atlanta had 22 double-figure scoring games last season. She also had 10 or more rebounds in 30 games.
Schaefer said he isn’t 100 percent certain how Howard’s skills will fit into the mix, but he said it is hard to quibble with a player who has been a “double-double machine” throughout her career. He said a key will be figuring out how to make sure McCowan and Howard — the SEC’s active leading rebounders (McCowan, 1,015; Howard, 1,002 — are in the best position to rebound the basketball on offense so they can “clean up our mess on offense.”
When it comes to shooting, Schaefer said Howard doesn’t have the range out to 30 feet like Victoria Vivians, but he is confident Howard’s mid-range game will be a strength.
Schaefer acknowledged the Bulldogs might not shoot the ball as well as they did last season when they hit 46.8 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from 3-point range to average 81.1 points per game in a program-record 37-win season. He feels the Bulldogs will be an even better rebounding team with McCowan, who averaged 13.9 rebounds per game in 2017-18, and Howard, who ended her career at Texas A&M as the school’s all-time leading rebounder.
“To have two players like Teaira and Anriel that can do what they do is really, really cool,” Schaefer said.
Howard said she is working to improve her ballhandling and her shooting range so she can be even more versatile in whatever offense Schaefer decides to run. On defense, Howard feels she will be able to showcase her athleticism and quickness to get into passing lanes and to get out and run with an ultra-athletic backcourt that includes seniors Jazzmun Holmes and Jordan Danberry and redshirt sophomore Myah Taylor.
“I really like the differences (between Texas A&M and MSU),” Howard said. “I really like how up-tempo it is because that is how I am. I am pretty up-tempo. I also like how tough we play. I think that is something that stands out for us.”
MSU sophomore Chloe Bibby said Howard is an “amazing” rebounder, but she said she has been impressed Howard never seems to fall and is always full of energy and there for her teammates.
“She is always talking and has been a great role model for a lot of our younger players,” Bibby said. “She is an Energizer bunny who is always up and about. She gets every rebound and will hustle on the floor for everything. It really has been great having her to push the energy on the team and to hold the expectation throughout the practices.
“She holds that expectation for everyone else as well. We have Jazz on the ball and she is all over the ball with pressure. Having Anriel back there as well hustling and being everywhere that kind of feeds through the team and does give us energy.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.