*This is the first of many posts by our newest writer here at PackInsider.com, Ethan Joyce. He will be covering all of the former Pack players in the NBA D-League and providing updates and interviews as they chase their dream of making a NBA roster.
Richard Howell can pinpoint the moment that led him to where he is today: Nov. 18, 2012, when Howell was a senior on a Wolfpack team ranked No. 6 in the nation.
On that day, N.C. State lost at home to Oklahoma State and super-freshman Marcus Smart, 76-56. That loss indicated to Howell that the dream season could be in turmoil.
“I felt like that was one of the eye-openers for me because we came out flat,” Howell said. “And then, the body tone of my teammates after the game [was not good].”
The Pack’s season failed to gain traction after that loss, tumbling out of the national rankings and depreciating the individual accolades Howell achieved—averaging a double-double, leading the ACC in rebounds, first-team All-ACC Honors.
Now, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward is a rookie in the N.B.A. Development League with the Idaho Stampede. Going undrafted was a direct effect of his disappointing senior year. But instead of dwelling on it, Howell said he wants to put his head down and work.
“I won’t say that I was hurt [to go undrafted],” Howell said. “I just kind of used it as motivation and dedication to just go out and prove the people who passed up on me wrong.”
Doug Lipscomb, Howell’s coach at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., said that having dedication was never a problem for Howell.
“He is a competitor, and he is going to work hard every day,” Lipscomb said. “When he comes into the gym, he comes in to compete.”
Howell hopes to benefit from the professional lifestyle; with no more classes to attend and student functions to participate in, he can spend all his time on basketball.
It seems to be panning out for Howell so far: through his first eight games of the season, Howell started all of them, averaging 20.9 points and 12.8 rebounds a game, for an 8-0 team that began the season on an eight-game road trip.
Though he says the stats are great, Howell is more excited about the effect the road trip had on the Stampede.
“I felt like it definitely helped us gel even more,” Howell said. “I really feel that is the whole thing about this team; the chemistry is just off the charts.
The Stampede is the D-League affiliate of the Portland Trail Blazers. Howell spent training camp with the Blazers, giving him more time to learn the team’s playbook (the same playbook the Stampede uses).
Though he did not impress the Blazer’s execs enough to warrant a contract, Howell said they hinted that he might have a shot. He says that the Stampede’s hot start has definitely improved his case.
“I am just keeping my head right. I knew that it would be hard for me to make the Trail Blazer’s roster, but they also told me if I continued doing what I was doing . . . then I have a great shot of going to a team,” Howell said. “So my main thing right now is just wanting to win ball games.
“I feel like what I am doing right now is definitely putting us in position, but also what my teams are doing, they are setting me up well.”
But he still has plenty to work on. He’d like to be a better jump shooter. He wants to tighten up his ball handling. He hopes to improve so much that people aren’t surprised by his ability—they will expect great performances.
Until then, he ‘s going to keep producing on the court, keep waking up at 9 a.m. to work out an hour or two before practice starts, and keep staying afterward to shoot around with those teammates who are devoted enough.
But one thing is certain: Howell never wants to be as disappointed as he was last season, and he is going to do whatever he can to keep it that way.
Terquavion Smith is a Top-10 Scorer in the NBA G-League
Former Wolfpack scoring guard, Terquavion Smith is going off in the NBA-G League, and is now the 9th best scorer in the NBA G-League.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) November 26, 2023
He’s averaging 24ppg, shooting 40% from the floor and 37% from long range. He’s also adding 5 rebounds and 2 assists per game. But putting the stats aside, his performances have been electric.
Terq Smith with the hammer SLAM. pic.twitter.com/lglY7PHGOk
— Delaware Blue Coats (@blue_coats) November 26, 2023
His team, the Blue Coats, are an affiliate of the 76ers. The Sixers are being led by Joel Embid (their center), their PG Tyrese Maxey, and PF Tobias Harris. Smith is a SG, and honestly, I think there’s a shot he gets his chance at some point this season. Kelly Oubre Jr has been out with a broken rib, and his replacement, De’Anthony Melton is doing alright, but his stats aren’t all that different than Terquavion’s.
Melton is averaging 12 points per game, shooting 40% from the floor and 40% from 3pt range. He’s adding 4 rebound and 4 assists.
Smith is the more explosive player, but it’s likely the 76ers want to see a little more offensive efficiency before they start thinking about moving him up.
Former NC State SS Trea Turner Set Phillies’ Record in NLDS
Former NC State All-American Shortstop Trea Turner set a Phillies’ postseason record, collecting 4 hits in Philly’s Game 4 3-1 victory over the Braves. The Phillies first went to the playoffs in 1908, and Turner is the first player to ever have 4 hits in one game.
Turner was 4-4, and was a triple shy of the cycle.
Most people will remember Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos from the NLDS, but it’s Turner that’s slashing 500/.539/.942 in the 2023 playoffs thus far.
Trea Turner gives the Phillies the lead in the 5th inning! pic.twitter.com/x6ExY5XmYp
— Phillies Tailgate (@PhilsTailgate) October 13, 2023
Trea Turner joins the homer party! pic.twitter.com/q3SHTEJ9Lw
— Phillies Tailgate (@PhilsTailgate) October 11, 2023
Trea Turner is worth every damn penny. pic.twitter.com/OyDKWosJRS
— Phillies Tailgate (@PhilsTailgate) October 8, 2023
MLB 2023 Season PackPros Roundup
Five former NC State baseball players played in the Major Leagues in 2023. Here’s a roundup of how it went for the four of them.
Shortstop Trea Turner signed an 11-year $300 million contract with Philadelphia heading into the 2023 season. Turner was coming off of his 2nd All-Star game appearance. 2023 was a little bit of a mixed bag for Turner. Through much of the season, the Phillies looked like they had made a terrible investment in Turner, but he finished the season extremely well. He finished his first season in Philly with a batting average of .266, which is the lowest of his career, if you don’t count the .225 he batted in his first year in the MLB, batting .225 in only 27 games. With that being said, his 26 home runs were the 2nd most of his career, and he stole 30 bases for the first time since 2021. Turner’s 102 Runs ranked 10th in the National League, and his 30 Stolen Bases ranked 9th.
Turner was taken with the 13th overall pick in 2014.
Carlos Rodon’s first year in New York was his worst season in the MLB to date. After signing a 6-year $162 million with the Yankees in the offseason, expectations were high for what Rodon would bring to the Yankees. He was coming off of back-to-back All-Star seasons in Chicago and San Francisco. Injury has plagued Rodon at times throughout his career, and the injury bug struck three times this season. As a result, Rodon only started 14 games. He finished the season with a 3-8 record, and a outrageous 6.85 ERA.
Rodon was taken with the 3rd overall pick in 2014.
Catcher Patrick Bailey made his MLB debut this season. He was called up from Triple A to the Giants on May 19. While Bailey’s offensive numbers won’t ‘wow’ you, he was one of the best fielding catchers in all of the MLB this year. In 97 games, Bailey posted a .233 batting average, with 7 HRs and 48 RBI. In fielding, Bailey was the best in the Majors in Framing, 2nd in Pop Time, and 2nd in Caught Stealing Above Average. He ranked 6th, throwing out 15 base stealers.
Bailey was taken with the 13th overall pick in 2020.
Catcher Andrew Knizner entered the year on thin ice with the St. Louis Cardinals organization and the fanbase, but by seasons end, he became a fan favorite. Despite the fact that he is behind starter Willson Contreras, Knizner played 70 games, and looked like a starting MLB catcher in many of them. Knizner finished with a career high in batting average (.241), Runs (30), 2B (11), HR (10), RBI (31), SLG (.424) and OPS (.712). Technically Knizner doesn’t become an undrafted free agent until 2026, signing a 1-year $1.1 million contract in arbitration prior to the season.
Knizner was taken in the 7th round in 2016.
Pitcher Evan Justice was called up to the Colorado Rockies for a brief stint in his first season of professional baseball. Things didn’t go well after the call up, posting an 8.59 ERA in 9 appearances, striking out 7 batters in 7.1 innings. As a result, he was optioned back down to Triple-A. In 2023, Justice pitched in A, AA, AAA and the majors. In the minors, he had an impressive 6-1 record with a 3.49 ERA, striking out an impressive 63 batters in 38.2 innings. Opponents batting average against him was a putrid .131, and his WHIP was 1.11.
Justice was taken in the 5th round in 2021.
PI EXCLUSIVE: AJ Cole Shares His NC State Story
Former NC State Punter A.J. Cole is now a Pro Bowl Punter for the Las Vegas Raiders. Cole averaged 42.2 yards per punt while serving as the Wolfpack’s punter, which ranks 4th in school history. Since going undrafted in 2019, Cole was signed as a free agent by the Raiders, and he’s been their starter ever since. Cole was named to the Pro Bowl in 2021 and 2022, and earned 1st Team All Pro honors in 2021.
I caught up with Cole, and he shared how he ended up as the punter at NC State, what his time in Raleigh meant to him, how being a Wolfpack football player prepared him for the NFL, what it’s like to play with and against former teammates, and what NC State means to him today.
I’ll let him share his story in his own words.
“I went to the NC State camp in the summer going into my Senior year. They were looking to scholarship a punter. I had started punting in December, right after my Junior season ended, so I was still super raw. The coach that was running the camp set up a competition for Coach Doeren to watch the Punters. To qualify for the competition, you had 2 chances to hit a 38-yard punt with 3.8 seconds of hang time, which is not that hard. I was pretty nervous though, and shanked my 2 qualifying punts. So they eliminated everyone that didn’t qualify and brought up the guys that were going to kick in front of Coach Doeren. Well, the coach running the camp yells at me to ‘come over,’ and I told him I didn’t qualify. He said “You sure? I’m pretty sure you did. Hop in the line.” So I hopped in the line, and kicked really well. Coach Doeren brought me up to his office after the camp, and offered me a scholarship on the spot
It was pretty funny though, because I had never punted in a game before. So when I got home, they asked me for my hudl highlight tape, so they could watch it as a staff, and I had to tell them I had never punted in a game before, but I’d send them my tape after a couple games.
My experience at NC State was incredible. The biggest thing I always tell people about State is the people are great. From teammates, to coaches, to professors, to the other students, I really just enjoyed the kind of person that NC State attracts. I had a chance to pursue 2 dreams while I was there. I got to chase an engineering degree and play football. Obviously, I’m doing the football thing right now, but if that hadn’t worked out, my NC State degree would have served me well. Raleigh, North Carolina means a lot to me, and it really helped shape me into the man I am.
I feel like NC State prepared me well for the NFL. Being in a consistently competitive environment in the ACC definitely helped adjusting to the level of competition in the league. The facilities are world class, and the strength and conditioning program helped me make some super crucial changes to my body that allowed me to reach my potential.
Playing with Jakobi Meyers again has been awesome. It’s cool to play at this level with guys that you knew from college. We always talk about how the Pack is doing, and we do some reminiscing on the Raleigh days. There’s so many NC State guys in the league right now, it feels like every week I’m seeing an old teammate. That’s really special.
I absolutely still keep up with NC State. I watch all the games I can, and my friends from college are still my best friends.