*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.
Justin Gainey Named Associate Head Coach at Marquette
Former NC State Point Guard Justin Gainey (1997-00) has been hired by Marquette as their Associate Head Coach, serving along head coach Steve Wojciechowski, the former Duke point guard.
“We are excited to welcome Justin and the Gainey family back to Marquette,” Wojciechowski said. “Justin is one of the nation’s top rising coaches and his talents, ability to build meaningful relationships and myriad of experiences alongside some of the game’s best teachers will serve our program, and most importantly our players, incredibly well.” (Link)
This isn’t Gainey’s first stint at Marquette, serving as Director of Operations from 2014-17. The past two seasons, Gainey served as an Assistant Coach with Sean Miller at Arizona. Prior to that, he served as an Assistant Coach at Santa Clara for one season with his former head coach at NC State, Herb Sendek.
Gainey’s coaching career began at NC State, where he served as Director of Operations for three seasons (2006-09), and then he went on to work at Appalachian State and Elon as well.
Dennis Smith Jr. Showing Love to Fayetteville in the Midst of Covid-19
Former NC State Freshman of the Year Dennis Smith Jr. never forgets where he came from. The New York Knicks Point Guard is always showing love for Fayetteville, North Carolina.
According to Ian Begley, DSJ is providing food vouchers for 575 first responders at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, and 32 computers for local students in Fayetteville.
Here’s a quote from Dennis Smith Jr. on his donation: “Fayetteville and basketball have given so much to me…. I wanted to show support for the real heroes during these tragic times – the first responders.” Smith Jr.’s full quote, via the Knicks, is here: https://t.co/EtvF1LhVKh pic.twitter.com/G1RpvhGTjF
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) March 27, 2020
Andrew Knizner Enters 2020 as the #6 Prospect in the Cardinals Organization
Former NC State Catcher Andrew Knizner enters the 2020 season ranked as the #6 prospect in the Cardinals organization.
Knizner was drafted in the 7th round by St. Louis in 2016, and was called up for the 1st time to the Big Leagues last year, when Yadier Molina was placed on the disabled list.
The jump wasn’t an easy one, with Knizner hitting .226 in 18 games.
Despite some time in the Majors at the end of last season, Knizner will begin 2020 in Triple-A Memphis, where he has already played 83 games, hitting .283.
Cardinals legend Molina is back to full strength, and backup Matt Wieters was signed to a 1-year deal, meaning it’s not quite time for Knizner.
Will Wilson Enters 2020 as the #10 Prospect in the Giants Organization
Former NC State All-American Shortstop Will Wilson will is entering the 2020 baseball season ranked as the #10 prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization.
After being drafted by the Angels with the 15th overall pick in the MLB Draft last year, Wilson hit .275 in 46 games of Rookie ball with the Orem Owlz.
In December, the Angels traded him to the Giants.
In his final season at NC State, Wilson led the team with a .335 batting average, 20 doubles, 16 home runs and a .661 slugging percentage, and finished eighth all-time in career doubles (57) and homers (39), and ninth in total bases (409).
Wilson is the 3rd highest draft pick in NC State history, and only the 2nd batter to be drafted in the 1st round, alongside another shortstop who is currently in the league as well: Trea Turner.
According to MLB.com, Wilson is expected to make it to the Majors in 2022.