As long as the WNBA has existed, its players have traveled thousands of miles to play in Europe, Asia and Australia in order to earn extra money and stay in shape during the league’s long offseason. In recent years, however, some have begun foregoing that route in favor of staying stateside to work with NCAA programs.
Atlanta Dream star Rhyne Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft and that season’s Rookie of the Year, is one of the highest profile players to make that decision. She announced on Monday that she will be joining the University of Florida’s women’s basketball program as an assistant coach and director of player personnel.
“It has always been important to me that we surround our student-athletes with people who can help equip them with the skills necessary to succeed as professionals on and off the court,” Florida head coach Kelly Rae Finley stated in a press release. “Rhyne is humble, competitive, thoughtful, and driven. She is living many of our student-athlete’s dreams. Her knowledge of the game combined with her ability to teach and connect with them on and off the court will elevate our program.”
Howard, 23, spent her collegiate career at the University of Kentucky and led the Wildcats to their first SEC conference tournament championship in 40 years, but has ties to Florida through her mother, who played for the Gators from 1987-91, and holds multiple program records.
“When you really think about it everything is full circle, my mom was a Gator herself and I have been on this campus multiple times, but to actually be able to wear the orange and blue, I know it’s making her proud, I know it’s making everyone who thought I was originally going to be a Florida Gator proud,” Howard stated. “I always knew at some point that I would have the connection back with this school and just to be here and to be loved and to feel how much of a family it is already just confirmed all that.”
In her second season in the league, Howard averaged 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, all career-highs, and helped the Dream get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. Though the Dream were swept in the first round, Howard made history with the highest-scoring playoff debut ever when she dropped 36 points in Game 1 against the Dallas Wings.
Howard spent last offseason playing in Italy for Famila Schio, whom she helped win the Lega Basket Femminile championship. While Howard has played fewer than three seasons and as such is not yet subject to the league’s new prioritization rule, it’s worth considering her decision in that context, as it would have affected her after this offseason.
Starting in 2024, all players must be back in team markets by the start of training camp or May 1, whichever is later. If they are not back by then, they will be suspended for the season. That will limit players’ flexibility with their overseas clubs moving forward, and Howard appears to be getting ahead of the issue while also getting a jumpstart on a potential post-playing career on the sidelines.