Anriel Howard (5) of the Mississippi State Bulldogs women’s basketball team, here shown during the game against Arizona State in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 on March 29, 2019, is from Westlake High School in Atlanta. (Photo by Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletics)
Photo: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletics
Photo: Kelly Donoho/Mississippi State Athletics

Westlake High’s Anriel Howard ready for WNBA draft 

Anriel Howard thought she was going to run track and field professionally when she was in middle school. She ranked second in the nation in the 800 meters during middle school, and won the triple jump Class AAAAAA state titles in 2014 and 2015 for Westlake High School.

She first picked up basketball in middle school, but her athletic ability demonstrated in track and competition cheerleading kept her afloat at first. She worked on her game and continued through high school playing basketball and competing in track and field, and she earned scholarships to Texas A&M for both sports. 

Howard first thought about pursuing the WNBA during her freshman season at Texas A&M, when she set the NCAA Tournament record with 27 rebounds. That also set a Texas A&M single-game record and was the first 20-plus rebound game for an Aggie since 1988. 

She set her sights on the WNBA as a sophomore. She had to choose between track season and the opportunity to shadow at ESPN studios in Charlotte, and Howard gave up track.

“I knew I was going to have to bank on basketball and my career after basketball, which what I want to do is be a sports analyst or sideline reporter,” she said. 

With the WNBA draft Wednesday, Howard is one step closer to starting her professional basketball career and pursuing that dream.  

Coaches in the WNBA have paid attention to Howard and her abilities. New York Liberty coach Katie Smith said in a media conference call that Howard has a shot at being drafted. 

“Anriel Howard is unique, and she definitely has the skill set that she can bring to the league, and that’s her rebounding and activity level, but she’s also shown that she can stretch the defense by shooting the 3 ball,” Smith said. “She will come in and be a problem to play against because she just does not stop.”

Howard left A&M for Mississippi State as a graduate transfer after the 2017-18 season. This season, Mississippi State lost in the Elite Eight on March 31 against Oregon. Now her focus has turned to the draft, but she hasn’t fully comprehended all the possibilities.

She does know where her strengths in the game lie. Her ability to rebound set her apart at Texas A&M. She set the career record for the Aggies with 1,002 rebounds, the first Texas A&M player with more than 1,000 rebounds. She totaled 301 rebounds for Mississippi State during the 2018-19 season. 

“I just want to be able to fall back on my energy and my motor and always making those hustle plays, always getting the tough rebounds,” Howard said. “I feel like you can’t really teach that, that’s something that I have always had and I want to be able to stay with.” 

Hearing her name called in the draft would fulfill a milestone in Howard’s career goals. It would mean her time on the court at Westlake High School, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, while also giving up track, was worth it. 

“This is something for my career and something I’ve got to do,” she said. 

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