[h2]The University of Maryland’s Pe’Shon Howard is anxious to get back to doing what he loves, leading a basketball team to victories. Here’s the second installment of our interview with him.[/h2]
With the playoffs under way, the majority of college basketball players being talked about right now are those projected to be picked in the upcoming NBA draft. But although they might’ve exited the national spotlight until next season, there are hundreds of players on campus sweating through arduous weightlifting sessions, trying to improve their grasp of a new position, pushing their bodies to the limit of physical exertion, shooting thousands of free throws or fighting their way back from injury, banking that the sweat equity they’re depositing now will pay handsome dividends in the years to come.
The University of Maryland’s sophomore point guard, Pe’Shon Howard, is one such player. Entering this year with excitement and purpose, the majority of his season was lost to foot and knee injuries.
His public image has also taken a recent hit for an incident involving the College Park, Maryland police, where he was cited for disorderly conduct, ostensibly for yelling at someone who started a fight in a restaurant, even when the police ordered him to stop doing so.
“I’m disappointed because I should’ve handled it better, could have handled it differently and should’ve made sure it didn’t happen,” said Howard. “But the people who really know me know what type of person I am.”
The ironic thing as that most will form a negative opinion of him based on a news headline, without having all of the facts and the context to view the situation objectively. That’s just the society we live in, one of knee-jerk reactions and microwave judgments. The ironic thing is, if you ask anyone who knows Pe’Shon Howard, they’ll tell you that he’s one of the most sincere, endearing, and humble kids around.
A Los Angeles native and versatile, sturdily built 6-foot-3 floor general, he’s also a perpetual double-double threat whenever he steps on the court. Fundamentally sound and well-schooled, as evidenced by being among the ACC’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, Pe’Shon is a rarity in today’s culture of athletic freaks that wouldn’t know a box-out if it smacked them in the head.
And yet, he can also push the ball and dazzle with flair and a sense of showmanship, whipping behind-the-back and no-look passes like a miniature Magic Johnson.
If his team needs him to score, no problem. Ball movement? No problem. Feed the hot shooter? No problem. Establish the big man in the post? No problem. Need rebounds? No problem.
No moment would appear to be too big for Pe’shon, considering that he was hanging out with Hollywood movie stars at the age of five. It’s almost as if he was destined for the bright lights from an early age.
He has an innate sixth sense on the court that impacts a game in many ways, along with a natural propensity for leadership. He was raised to see beyond what’s on the surface and into the realm of what’s possible.
Pe’Shon is an articulate optimist, driven yet unassuming, pensive yet assertive, soft-spoken yet powerful in the positive energy he exudes. He’s also hungry for next year, determined to elevate the Maryland Terps to the level he believes they should consistently be at: a perpetual NCAA Tournament team.
Pe’Shon sat down for a wide-ranging conversation with CoachGeorgeRaveling.com, discussing, among other things, his upbringing, his goals, his basketball journey, the injuries that tested him this year, being featured in a best-selling book and the goals he’s committed to achieving in the future.
Here is part II of our discussion.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: At what point did you realize that not only were you a good basketball player, but that you were better than most kids your age?
Pe’Shon Howard: I realized I was pretty good when I was seven years old, playing up against older players at Nationals. When I was nine or ten, I was ranked as one of the top players in the country by Hoop Scoop, along with guys like Kendall Marshall and Lance Stephenson. And I really wasn’t paying attention to the rankings and stuff, but my coach would tell me about them. I was like, ‘Oh, cool,’ but I didn’t think too much about it.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com:You were featured, as a kid playing for S.C.A., the elite Southern California All-Stars program, in George Dohrmann’s phenomenal book, Play Their Hearts Out, which is a scathing commentary on the AAU hoops scene and the underground meat market of youth basketball. You seemed very self-assured and confident, even back then, when most of the other kids in the narrative seemed fragile, naïve and vulnerable.
I think George gravitated towards me because of that. That team was loaded. And if you look around now, almost everybody is playing D-I basketball somewhere. But I wasn’t intimidated and I wasn’t backing down from anybody, even as a little kid. That goes back to that mentality that my dad instilled in me. I didn’t know anything other than being self-assured.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: Have you read the book?
Yeah, I read it a week before it came out.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: Looking back now, reading about yourself as a kid, what were some of your impressions?
It just brought back a lot of memories. It’s crazy to think about the lifestyle we were living. We didn’t do carwashes to raise money for uniforms or tournament entry fees or travel. We were in elementary school, flying all over the country, eating in the best restaurants and sponsored by a major sneaker company.
In the documentary about LeBron’s high school team, More Than a Game, they talk about his AAU team playing S.C.A. and how they would walk through the gym with that confidence and swag. I was on one of the younger S.C.A. teams under those guys that played against LeBron. And it was the same way with us, we had that aura. And it made me think that I’ve always been associated with the best in basketball, from S.C.A. to Oak Hill and now playing in the ACC.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: You and your dad left California and moved to the East Coast before you got to high school. What precipitated that?
In California, we had to fly everywhere to play against the best. We talked about it and said, why not stay on the east coast, where you can play against the best players consistently and you don’t have to wait for nationals to go against the best, as opposed to flying somewhere to do it a couple of times a year. We decided to play for Team Maryland, which gave me a better opportunity to test myself against the best players over and over again. My dad was making a good living in California, but he made a decision to put me in the best possible position, so he moved us across the country to support my dream.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: That seems to go back to his philosophy of, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it to be great.’
And I’m so appreciative of that. He always said, ‘If you work hard and you’re successful, you don’t have to worry about anything and can do whatever you want.’ Because he was successful and because he handled his business so well, he was able to take care of himself, take care of me, and move across the country, if that’s what it took, to help me fulfill my dreams.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: So how did you wind up in Ohio, where you played as a high school freshman at St. Edward’s in Cleveland?
I was planning to go back to California to play high school ball and was at a camp in Ohio the summer before 9th grade. I was playing with Delvon Roe, who went on to play at Michigan State and he took me to an open run to play with some of LeBron’s guys. They were talking to my dad, telling them how much they liked my game and I wound up playing for Lebron’s AAU team, King James, that summer. I liked it out there and they were a really good group of guys.
That’s when I started thinking about going to St.Vincent-St.Mary, where LeBron went to school, or St. Edwards, so I could play with Delvon Roe. That freshman year was a very good experience for me. We were one of the top-ranked teams in the state, went to the state Final Four and we beat some tough national schools as well, like Mount St. Joseph’s out of Baltimore. They had Henry Simms, who had a great year at Georgetown this year.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: You finished up at Oak Hill Academy, the prep powerhouse and played there for three years. How did you eventually wind up there?
I started to get interested in Oak Hill because Brandon Jennings and I are close, he’s only a couple of years older than me, and I’ve known him since I was eight years old growing up in Los Angeles. When I found out he was going there, I started to look into the process and decided that I wanted to play there one day too. I was actually supposed to go there beginning in my junior year, but Willie Warren, who played his college ball at Oklahoma, left and they called me and asked me if I was interested in coming there as a sophomore.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: It must have been hard to make that decision, considering the success and comfort level you found in Ohio.
It was very tough because we had a good team at St. Edward’s. But Brandon Jennings was already being talked about as an NBA prospect and my dad and I thought it would be a great experience to play against him in practice every day. That was the type of experience that you really can’t pass up.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: A lot of players have told me that the Oak Hill basketball experience is great, but the isolation of being in a small boarding school in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia is very rough. And most of those guys were only there for a year, maybe two.
When I got there, Coach Steve Smith asked me if I was up for the challenge. I started talking about basketball because I knew the goal and challenge there is to go undefeated every year. But he was also talking about the academic and social situation, being away from home. I was initially like, ‘Yeah, I can handle it.’ But after about a month or so, I was like, ‘Man, this is really tough!’
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: I might be wrong, but I think you’re the only player in Oak Hill history to be a starter for three years.
I didn’t start right away. I was really nervous at the beginning, but coach was impressed at how quickly I picked up the plays. In my first regular season game, I had like 10 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds off the bench. About a month or so in, I got into the starting rotation.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: Talk about what that experience did for you, because thousands of kids who are really good, and who would love to play there, don’t get the opportunity to play for Oak Hill.
Anybody who is a player wants to come and play at Oak Hill, where you’re playing against the top talent, where college coaches are at practice day in and day out. That just made me even more self-assured. Being there with no distractions made me work harder because there’s nothing else to do.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: Give me an example.
On Friday nights, I’d be talking to my friends from home and they would be getting ready to go out to parties and I was getting ready to go to the gym and get some shots up. And after that, I had to go back to my room and do homework because I had classes on Saturdays. Being there shuts out all of the distractions. It makes you focus in on the goal. You have to do your homework. You have to make sure you’re in class and paying attention.
And that part is easier when you get to college if you have that foundation. Now that I’m a college student, while my classmates are going out to party, it’s easy for me to go back to my room, knock out some homework and just grind.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: And it seems like you also gained a great peer group, in terms of players reaching for similar goals.
That helped a lot. Brandon Jennings is in the NBA, Tiny Gallon went to Oklahoma, Mo-Mo Jones went to the NCAA tournament with Arizona, Juwan Staten was among the freshmen leaders in assists in college basketball last year, Doron Lamb went to the Final Four and won a title with Kentucky, Roscoe Smith won the national championship as a freshman at UCONN and Baye Moussa Keita was making an impact at Syracuse as a freshman. I have a lot of guys that I can talk to.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: So when you’re talking with those guys, especially now with the injuries, what are they telling you?
To keep my head up, not to worry and to stay aggressive. They’re telling me to keep working hard and to keep striving to be a good leader for my team.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: When you were making your college decision, what schools were you most interested in, and vice versa?
UCLA, USC, Georgia Tech, South Florida, Harvard, Virginia, Stanford and Maryland. I chose Maryland because Gary Williams was a great coach who was very demanding, and that appealed to me. They were losing Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez which meant there’d be immediate playing time for me. And Maryland made it clear that I was their first choice. A lot of schools said they liked me, but they wanted to wait to see what the blue chip guys like Kyrie Irving and Josh Selby were going to do before making a firm commitment to me. I didn’t want to be somebody’s second choice and the fact that I’d be playing in college basketball’s most storied conference, the ACC, helped as well.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: How was that transition from high school to college?
I was accustomed to the intensity of practices and how much time and effort you spend working out, from my experience at Oak Hill. In high school, I got a lot of playing time, so one of the big adjustments was being able to come off the bench whenever your name is called and always being ready. And there is a learning curve.
Some days I was really up, being really aggressive and playing well, and other days, I wasn’t doing well at all. And as a freshman, no matter how much somebody tries to tell you, you don’t know what it’s like playing at North Carolina, Duke and other places with these great atmospheres. As a freshman, every day is a learning process.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: It must have been extremely difficult, knowing how hard you’ve worked and how much you looked forward to playing with a year’s experience under your belt, only to have your sophomore season sabotaged by injuries.
It was, but I tried to focus on the things I could still do to help the team. I was working with Nick Faust, our talented freshman, trying to help him learn the point guard position. And he really helped the team this year. I’m very proud of him and I felt like I had a hand in helping him to improve. I’m just thinking about the future and that gets me excited. I just have to stay focused, do what the doctors tell me to do and make sure that I can get back and lead my team.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: What players do you watch and study?
I watch other college teams and study what makes them successful. I watch Syracuse and study their sets, their defense and how they force so many turnovers. I watch Wisconsin and their mature attitude and execution because they’re not a one person team. They play better than what their talent suggests. Those are the kinds of things I’ve been studying, the type of attitude I want to bring to the team next year.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: What are your long term goals?
I’m ahead of schedule academically, so I’d like to graduate early and start working on my Master’s Degree while I still have my athletic eligibility. Of course I’d like to play professional basketball, if not in the NBA then overseas. And I love the game so much, I’d love to go into coaching. And I’m also considering the business world and the commercial aspects of sports, so I’m thinking about working at one of the sneaker companies as well.
CoachGeorgeRaveling.com: How about in the short term?
I want us to be among the top three teams in the ACC next year. Some people will say that’s unrealistic, but why not set the bar there and push for it. I want to make sure that we get to the tournament, and not just get there but go deep. I don’t think about individual goals because if you win, the individual recognition is going to come. I just want to help my team win.
Alejandro Danois, Bounce Magazine’s Senior Editor and a Contributing Writer with Dime Magazine, is also a freelance sports and entertainment writer whose work has been published by the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Sporting News, among others.