UC Davis’ Ryan Howley is a guard doing what is traditionally a forward’s job. And he’s doing it better than almost every forward in college basketball.
That job is rebounding.
Checking in at 6-foot-5 Howley isn’t super tall — by basketball standards, at least — but through the first 11 games of the season, he has been the best rebounder for the Aggie men and one of the best in the country. He is currently 15th in the nation in rebounds per game, with an average of 10.5.
For UCD, the board brilliance is just what the doctor ordered.
Last year, Howley suffered a season-ending knee injury with 13 games to go. The Aggies already were struggling to keep opponents off the glass and when UCD lost Howley, who was averaging 5.7 rebounds per game, things snowballed. The Aggies couldn’t find a way to close out possessions and gave up far too many second-chance points to consistently win games.
This year has been different, to say the least.
Howley, now a fifth-year senior, and sophomore center J.T. Adenrele both credit the team’s offseason weight program with making them stronger in post. With the pair combining to form a solid interior unit, the Aggies have outrebounded opponents by an average of 1.5 boards per game so far this season.
And Howley is turning in a final year to remember. In addition to everything he has done on the glass, he has averaged a career-high 6.9 points per game and connected on 50 percent of his shots — something he says the emergence of Adenrele has had a lot to do with.
Adenrele, who is averaging 11.2 points and 5 rebounds per game, has drawn more and more double-teams down low as the season has progressed, giving Howley plenty of easy paths to the rim.
“I get a lot of open layups from his dump-offs,” Howley said.
The 6-7 Adenrele also opens things up for Howley on the boards by boxing out opposing big men when the ball is in the air. In what has become a symbiotic relationship on the hardwood, the smaller but quicker Howley is then able to swoop into the paint and corral the ball.
“I kind of have the mentality of rebounding like a guard, so I use that to chase down the ball,” Howley said.
Added Adenrele: “I just have to worry about boxing out.”
And once Howley gets a hold on the ball, no one is ripping it away from him.
“He has really strong hands,” said UCD head coach Jim Les. “He just has a knack for picking up the ball, off the rim, off the backboard.”
Factor in what Les called his “sneaky athleticism” and it’s easier to see why Howley, who is the only guy shorter than 6-7 on the list of top 20 rebounders in the nation, has had such success on the boards this year.
He’s also proved to be a versatile defender, defending everyone from opposing guards on the perimeter to power forwards in the paint.
“He’s taken it upon himself to be a major player on this team,” Les added.
Howley also is a major reason why the Aggies have gone 4-7 despite taking on a nonconference slate that included quality teams like Stanford, Oklahoma State and Utah State. UCD has been in every game, and the team is confident heading into Big West Conference play, knowing it has already seen the worst.
“I think this is one of the most exciting years (of my career),” Howley said.
Considering it is all coming in his final year as an Aggie, after the season-ending injury last year, it has to feel pretty good.
Notes: Howley’s versatility on the court also extends to life off it. According to his Aggie bio, he is an economics major and plays guitar and ukulele on the side. … Howley played prep basketball at Sinagua High in Flagstaff, Ariz.
— Reach Will Bellamy at [email protected]