Rhyne Howard is taking her talents to the sidelines, joining the Florida Gators’ coaching staff during the WNBA offseason.

Howard, who just finished her second season with the Atlanta Dream, will serve as an assistant coach as well as the team’s director of player personnel. While the former No. 1 overall pick was a standout player for Kentucky, she is joining the Wildcats’ SEC rivals for the 2023-24 season.

Florida is her mother’s alma mater, and Rhvonja “RJ” Avery still holds top-10 rankings in a number of categories from her career with the Gators from 1987 to 1991.

“When you really think about it, everything is full circle,” Howard said. “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.

“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.”

Howard is coming off of a solid sophomore season in the league, averaging 17.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and helping the Dream to the WNBA playoffs. She improved upon her first season, in which she was named Rookie of the Year and a WNBA All-Star.

Gators head coach Kelly Finley Rae told the Associated Press that bringing Howard into the fold will help to elevate the program.

“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,” Finley said. “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.”

Rhyne Howard wants the respect that she’s earned.

After being snubbed for the WNBA All-Star game this year, Howard put up a career-high 43 points in Atlanta’s 112-84 win over Los Angeles. It’s the second-most points by an Atlanta Dream player behind Betty Lennox in 2008.

She also had two rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. She also nailed six three-pointers.

“It felt great. I was already mad and then just coming into this game and everything was going in like I said at halftime. And it just kept flowing,” Howard told sideline reporter Autumn Johnson after the win. “There was some words said on the other end so it just kept me going. … They need to put some respect on my name.”

Howard was named to the All-Star game last year, and has been decidedly better this year, averaging 16.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

By the end of the first quarter, Howard had 17 points.

“[I want] respect,” Howard said. “I’ve been here, I made a statement last year, I’m continuing to make that statement this year, so they need to put some respect on my name.”

It was the fifth 40-point game this season, with all coming from different players. Of the 26 total 40-point games in the league’s history, 18.5 percent have come this season.

Former No. 1 pick Charli Collier joined the long list of WNBA roster cuts Wednesday morning, as the Dallas Wings waived the top pick from 2021 draft.

Many players have found themselves on the wrong side of the league’s roster squeeze, include DiDi Richards, Monika Czinano, Brea Beal and Destanni Henderson — too many, if you ask WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike.

“A whole league is training at home…” she wrote on Twitter.

In the aftermath of the recent cuts, Ogwumike was far from the only player calling for WNBA expansion to increase the number of available roster spots. The 12-team league has a maximum of 144 spots available.

As of Wednesday morning, 18 of the 36 picks from the 2023 draft appear on WNBA rosters. Last season, just 17 of the 36 picks from the 2022 WNBA draft made opening day rosters. And many teams still have cuts left to make to fit under the 12-player maximum by Thursday’s roster deadline.

While much attention has been given to possible expansion teams, former All-Star MVP Erica Wheeler suggested a quicker fix to the roster crunch.

“We pushing get more teams in the W! NO,” wrote Erica Wheeler. “EXTEND the roster to 14 players! That’s just a quick signature!! Adding a new teams gotta go thru 500000 layers! Adding 2 more spots to 12 teams is 24 more spots in the league! This is a easy change!

“And thennnnnn talk about adding teams! Of course we want more teams but extending the roster spots are easier right now!”

Former No. 1 overall pick and 2022 rookie of the year Rhyne Howard called the cuts – and the surrounding discussions – “stressful.”

Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman provided encouragement to any player who finds herself suddenly without a team.

“Being a player who has been cut from a WNBA roster in the past I just want ppl to know your value as a person or basketball player does not decrease,” she wrote. “There WILL be another opportunity & when it comes be ready for it. But expansion… WE NEED YOU!!”

Yet despite the criticism of the league, Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner encouraged fans to follow the WNBA and to help the league grow.

“I know there’s upset fans at WNBA roster cuts & I see many people saying how they won’t support the league bc their fave got cut,” she wrote. “I would actually encourage the opposite! Please continue to support the league so it can grow & create more opportunities to support future players!!”

Rhyne Howard and Haley Jones are not strangers to one another, which could spell trouble for teams facing the Atlanta Dream in the upcoming WNBA season.

In an interview with reporter Mark Schindler, Jones revealed that the pair were texting on her draft night. The Dream selected the 6-foot-1 guard with the No. 6 overall pick, and they picked Howard with the No. 1 overall pick in 2022.

Howard and Jones played together on the U.S. youth national team, and their moms are friends, which has led to even more excitement as Jones makes her way to Atlanta.

“Me and Rhyne have talked a bit since I’ve been drafted. She texted me while I was at the draft,” Jones said. “We were chatting on draft night about our excitement to play together again. I think that the way that we play works very well.”

According to Jones, Howard already has their handshake picked out. She has a different one for every player on the team, and she’s excited to welcome Jones with her own special greeting.

“Fun fact: I have one ready for almost everybody,” Howard wrote on Twitter.

For her part, Jones is ready to hit the ground running with her new team.

“I think that we play very well together. We’re great friends off the court, Rhyne is an even better person which is hard to imagine with how great of a player she is,” Jones said. “I’m just excited to get there, play with Rhyne and play with everybody on this team.”

While a number of rookies excelled this season in the WNBA, the winner of the league’s Rookie of the Year award should come as no surprise.

Rhyne Howard earned the honor for her stellar first season with the Atlanta Dream. The No. 1 overall pick averaged 16.2 points, 11th in the league and first among the rookie class.

The guard out of the University of Kentucky also contributed 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals across 34 games, and she broke Tamika Catchings’ 20-year-old rookie record (77) by sinking 85 3-pointers.

She is joined on the All-Rookie team by Indiana Fever forward NaLyssa Smith and Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin, the No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks in the draft. Howard received 53 out of 56 votes for Rookie of the Year, while Austin received two and Smith received one.

Chicago Sky guard Rebekah Gardner, a 32-year-old who went undrafted out of UCLA in 2012 and built her career in Europe, and Indiana Fever forward Queen Egbo round out the team.

While the other rookies proved standouts for their teams, Howard remained a head above the rest all season. She won the Rookie of the Month award for all four months of the season, becoming just the seventh player in WNBA history to take the honor in at least three consecutive months.

She joined a prestigious list that includes Michaela Onyenwere (2021), A’ja Wilson (2018), Breanna Stewart (2016), Elena Delle Donne (2013), Nneka Ogwumike (2012) and Tina Charles (2010). All six also went on to win the Rookie of the Year award.

As her offseason begins, she has been invited to attend USA Basketball’s training camp starting Sept. 6 in Las Vegas. The training camp leads up to the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, which starts Sept. 22 in Australia.

WNBA All-Rookie team

  • Shakira Austin, Washington Mystics
  • Queen Egbo, Indiana Fever
  • Rebekah Gardner, Chicago Sky
  • Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream (Rookie of the Year)
  • NaLyssa Smith, Indiana Fever

The 2022 WNBA regular season has come to a close, leaving the Atlanta Dream, along with the Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks and Indiana Fever, on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

The Dream’s postseason bid came down to the wire, with Atlanta’s fate sealed after losing to the New York Liberty in the team’s regular-season finale.

Yet despite the disappointing end, the Dream have reason for optimism as the team looks to develop around their 2022 rebuild.

Atlanta Dream: Year in Review

What went right?

The Atlanta Dream’s 2022 campaign started on a high note before the season even began when the team selected Rhyne Howard as the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft.

The University of Kentucky guard faced lofty expectations as she entered the league, but she met or exceeded all of them. Howard won WNBA Kia Rookie of the Month in all four months of the season, finishing her debut season averaging 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

Howard provides the Dream with a critical presence on both sides of the ball, ending her maiden WNBA run 11th in the league in points per game and fifth in steals per game.

After a 2021 marred by off-court turmoil, including Chennedy Carter’s extended suspension following a locker room confrontation, Atlanta enjoyed a relatively drama-free 2022 as the team turned an 8-24 record last season into a 14-22 record this time around.

What went wrong?

The Dream need work on their offensive production. They finished the regular season second-to-last in points per game behind 42% field goal shooting. Atlanta, however, is fourth in 3-point percentage and seventh in 3-pointers made, with a lot to like about the team’s perimeter game.

Dead last in assists, the Dream will need to develop their ball movement and shot selection as they build around Howard.

Youth also hindered the Dream down the stretch, with the inexperience getting in the way of Atlanta grinding out wins when it mattered most.

What comes next?

The Dream is a team on the rise, and they could speed their progression with a free agent signing or a savvy draft pick to improve their post presence.

Atlanta does have a chance at another No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft lottery, and the 2023 draft class is expected to be one of the most talented in recent history. That gives the Dream an excellent opportunity to add a generational talent to a roster that already features Howard.

Rhyne Howard was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month for July, marking the third-straight month that the Atlanta Dream guard has received the award.

She becomes just the seventh player in WNBA history to take the award in three consecutive months. She joins Michaela Onyenwere (2021), A’ja Wilson (2018), Breanna Stewart (2016), Elena Delle Donne (2013), Nneka Ogwumike (2012) and Tina Charles (2010). All six went on to win the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year award.

Howard averaged 16.3 points and 0.8 blocks per game in July to lead all rookies. She also averaged 4.8 rebounds.

In eight games during the month of July, Howard had three 20+ point outings, as well as seven performances in the double-digits. On the season, Howard is averaging 15.6 points, which is good for 12th in the league, as well as 4.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game.

Howard was also named to her first All-Star game in the month of July.

CHICAGO — When Rhyne Howard was in middle school, she won her junior high cross country championships. It’s a fact that her mom, Rhvonja “RJ” Avery, loves to tell anyone who will listen.

It makes Howard cringe, albeit lovingly, with a combination of embarrassment and annoyance that only a mom can evoke. So, Avery keeps it up. It’s fun to get a bit of a rise out of her low-key daughter, but Avery also tells people about the victory because it’s a good way to explain Howard.

You see, she didn’t like cross country. But she still pushed herself to be the best because Rhyne Howard doesn’t know how to be anything else.

“She hated cross country,” Avery said. “Hated it. I said, ‘You don’t have to win. Just do it for conditioning and endurance.’ But she’s a competitor and she would always come out first.”

With that same kind of determination, Howard has also made an instant impact in her first WNBA season.

In March, Howard was preparing for the NCAA Tournament, but the looming WNBA Draft was never far from the Kentucky star’s mind. Making it in the league had always been her goal. She wanted it even before she was a middle-school cross country star.

That was five months ago.

Since then, Howard has been drafted No. 1 overall, made a statement with 33 points in her fourth WNBA game, and become the first rookie with 17 points in the first quarter of a game, all while averaging 15.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals for the sixth-place Atlanta Dream.

On Sunday, she added WNBA All-Star to her ever-growing list of accomplishments. Howard finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists for Team Wilson in a 134-112 victory at Wintrust Arena.

And though the All-Star Game was light-hearted, Howard’s performance was indicative of her rookie season thus far.

The Dream star lined up a corner 3-pointer to start the second quarter, which received a bow-and-arrow celebration from Candace Parker on the bench. She followed it up with a one-footed runner in the lane.

Perhaps Howard’s most impressive play came with a minute left in the third quarter. She caught the ball a few steps inside the 3-point line, dribbled beyond the arc and locked eyes with her defender before rising up for a quick-release 3.

“Rhyne is a beast,” Parker said after the game. “Becky (Hammon) and I were talking about Rhyne Howard and how she’s just different. Like the way she moves, the way she pulls up. I know there’s little things maybe the fans don’t see, but us players see, like the spin she puts on the ball when she’s laying it up. She’s different.”

Howard has long been a natural and dynamic scorer. Her abilities were apparent during her four years at Kentucky, where she was a two-time All-American and SEC Player of the Year while leading the Wildcats to their first SEC championship in 40 years as a senior.

Howard’s game isn’t the only thing that made a seamless transition to the WNBA. Avery was in the stands on Sunday, just like she was at nearly every Kentucky game. She’s already made it to most of Howard’s contests with the Dream as well, despite saying in March that she would likely be cutting back once Howard was a pro.

“She’s capping,” Howard said, with a youthful smile spreading across her face. “She comes to every game. I don’t understand why she would say that.”

Howard’s WNBA success hasn’t changed much about her lifestyle. Those who followed her at Kentucky know the guard is generally shy and media appearances and interviews have never been her thing. But on Friday, as Howard walked the Orange Carpet and spoke with countless reporters, she appeared comfortable.

WNBA stardom means she can’t avoid press, so Howard is trying to embrace it.

“It’s going to have to happen so I’m just making it easier on myself,” she said.

The way Howard is playing just two months into her WNBA season — infusing life into the Dream after three straight losing seasons and holding her own alongside legends on WNBA All-Star weekend — the spotlight is only going to grow brighter.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

The 2022 WNBA All-Star roster is set. The game’s 12 reserves were announced Tuesday afternoon, including Atlanta Dream rookie Rhyne Howard.

Howard’s selection makes her the first rookie to be named an All-Star since Napheesa Collier in 2019. Collier was an injury replacement for A’ja Wilson, who was named to the All-Star team as a rookie in 2018.

Howard is the only player on the list of reserves to be making the first All-Star appearance of her career.

The league’s head coaches voted on the reserves. Coaches could vote for three guards, five frontcourt players and four players at either position, but they were not allowed to vote for their own players.

The Chicago Sky feature heavily in the reserve selections, as Kahleah Copper, Emma Meesseman and Courtney Vandersloot join starter Candace Parker. The Sky are hosting the All-Star game for the first time, on July 10 at the Wintrust Arena.

Just one team did not have a single All-Star selection: the last-place Indiana Fever.

All-Star captains Sylvia Fowles, Sue Bird, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart will draft the two teams at 3 p.m. ET on July 2 from among the remaining starters and the 12 reserves.

List of reserves:

  • Ariel Atkins, Washington Mystics
  • Kahleah Copper, Chicago Sky
  • Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury
  • Dearica Hamby, Las Vegas Aces
  • Natasha Howard, New York Liberty
  • Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream
  • Brionna Jones, Connecticut Sun
  • Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm
  • Emma Meesseeman, Chicago Sky
  • Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas Wings
  • Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
  • Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky

List of starters:

  • Sue Bird, Seattle Storm
  • Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota Lynx
  • Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty
  • Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
  • Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
  • Candace Parker, Chicago Sky
  • Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas Aces
  • Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
  • A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
  • Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces

Rhyne Howard continues to impress in her rookie campaign, showcasing her skills with a step-back jumper in the Atlanta Dream’s win Wednesday against the Minnesota Lynx.

Howard went on to lead all Dream scorers with 22 points and four rebounds. The performance came the same day that Howard was named Rookie of the Month by the WNBA.

With an average of 17.4 points per game on the season, Howard ranks eighth in the league and first amongst rookies.

The Dream outscored the Lynx in all but one quarter as four other players scored in double-digits to help lead the Atlanta Dream to a 6-3 start. Despite a 20-point performance from Kayla McBride, the Lynx fell to 2-8 on the season.

Atlanta next plays the Chicago Sky on Friday.