AT THE CORE: Frank Howard has put last season’s disappointment behind him as he gets ready to lead Syracuse

first_img Published on November 5, 2017 at 11:37 pm Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langer,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. Comments Alot is new for Syracuse this season. Six of the 10 scholarship players for the Orange are in their first year at the school. Many of the practices are highlighted by four freshmen and one graduate transfer spending extra time with assistant coaches, asking questions as they learn the system.But as Frank Howard trotted out from the locker room at the start of practice the day before SU’s first exhibition game against Southern New Hampshire, he seemed comfortable. He shared a laugh with center Paschal Chukwu as the two stretched together. He jokingly chided assistant coach Adrian Autry every time Autry missed a 3-pointer while shooting around. He broke down the team huddle with a “hard work” chant to start practice.The offseason evolved Howard from a disappointing prospect to a comfortable veteran leader. A year ago, he was expected to emerge as the Orange’s starting point guard after showing flashes as a freshman. Instead, he lost most of his playing time once Atlantic Coast Conference play began, dealing with an injury to his core muscles as he watched graduate transfer John Gillon develop a stronghold on the position.The entire team, not just Howard, fell short of preseason expectations a year ago when Syracuse failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Howard is the last piece remaining from SU’s 2016 Final Four run. For the Orange to rebound it’ll lean on its most senior member, who’s entering the season more confident than he ever has.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“First thought was next season, what do I need to work on, get better,” Howard said of his mindset at the end of last year. “I feel like I’m the best-ever right now.”The first step to getting past last season was healing from the core injury. Howard doesn’t remember a specific play he got hurt on, but from early January through the end of the year, he felt pain every time he made a movement.In the offseason he had surgery to fix the four torn muscles. But, this wasn’t the first time Howard addressed a significant injury. At Paul VI (Maryland) High School, he missed his junior season while rehabbing an ACL injury.He became an assistant coach that season and was able to contribute to his team’s run in the state championship tournament. The core injury, Howard said, caused him more pain than the torn ACL.Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorThe mental strain of the injury weighed on him too. Howard wasn’t as frustrated with losing playing time as he was with not knowing why he felt physically unable to play the way he knew he could. Meeting with team doctors at the end of the season, he said, helped him move past the frustration, because it provided the clarity he lacked.“I think people have the misconception that I was letting (lack of playing time) affect me or letting coach affect me,” Howard said. “But nah, I just wasn’t confident in myself and my body. I knew something was wrong with me and I knew I couldn’t get the job done.”The injury is no longer an issue. Other than some occasional soreness after practice, Howard feels fine. Now, at full health, Howard must maintain steady level of play.A year ago, the then-sophomore point guard started 14 games. He started the ACC opener against Boston College on New Year’s Day, which the Orange lost, 96-81. He lost his consistent spot in the rotation after that, playing only 11.3 minutes per game in conference play compared to his 21.3 minutes prior to that.Even in the nonconference portion of the schedule, the problem for Howard was his disappearance against stronger opponents. In eight wins, Howard averaged eight points on 51.2 percent shooting and 8.4 assists to just two turnovers. In five losses, the numbers dropped to 5.6 points on 23.1 percent shooting. He had 14 assists and 14 turnovers in that span.Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor“That’s the thing moving forward that we hope changes,” assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. “We feel like he’s turned the corner mentally. He’s focused, and the consistency factor is everything.”Howard isolated his ball handling and his 3-point shot as two facets of his game that needed improvement. He shot just 32 percent from 3 last season compared to Gillon’s 42 percent clip.He’s taking more jump shots while in rhythm to strengthen those two areas and feels like he’s improved in both. But Howard’s also taken another part of his game to a higher level. He’s willingly stepped into the leadership role that SU needs him to fill with four of last year’s starters no longer on the team.“One thing about Franklin,” his high school coach Glenn Farello said, “is that he’s never shied away from big moments.”Howard’s been a lot more vocal during practices, McNamara said. He holds himself and other players accountable when they slip up during a drill. When practices get stale and monotonous, Howard is the one to inject life into them.“He works hard,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s getting better. I think that he’s a much better player this year at this stage than he was last year.”The spotlight is on Howard to produce now. He’s changed his number from 1 to 23, which he said was the first number he wore when he started in AAU. He said he wants to go back to his roots with that number.Despite his discouraging sophomore season, Howard said he never seriously thought of leaving SU. The injury, which he stressed he didn’t want to use as an excuse, is behind him. So are the struggles of losing his starting job.Now, all he needs to do fill the role that’s there for him to take.“I had to learn, get better. I feel like I’ve done that,” Howard said. “I feel like I’m in the right spot.”Banner photo illustration by Sam Lee | Staff Photographerlast_img

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