Wizard of Wake Forest
The inspired play of Josh Howard has the Demon Deacons bedeviling the ACC
Wake Forest's leafy campus in Winston-Salem, N.C., is only a few miles from where Josh Howard, the Demon Deacons' 6'6" senior swingman, grew up, but to Howard it used to feel like a different world. Though he started all but two games in his first season, 1999-2000, Howard was painfully shy and spent most of his free time back home. "I didn't know how to act at first, but in the 3� years I've been at Wake, I've become more comfortable and a lot less quiet," Howard says. "I feel like I have the best of both worlds now."
It helps that Howard is playing so well that he's emerged as a favorite for ACC player of the year, while also giving No. 10 Wake Forest (17-4, 7-3 in the ACC at week's end) a shot at its first outright league title since 1962. After scoring 20 points in a 90-67 loss to Maryland on Monday, Howard led the ACC in scoring (18.9 points per game) and was third in rebounding (8.0), blocks (1.62) and steals (2.10). He's also Wake's most reliable stopper on defense. "Josh is the best player in our league," says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "He's a beautiful player to watch on both ends of the court."
Lightly recruited despite averaging 26 points a game as a senior at Winston-Salem's Glenn High, Howard spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., to improve his academic performance. His play and personality were so understated, however, that Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser has no recollection of ever having seen him there, even though Prosser, who previously coached Xavier, attended several Hargrave Academy games while recruiting Howard's Hargrave teammate David West.
Having coached Howard for a season, Prosser last spring challenged him to work harder and pleaded with him to become a more vocal leader. Howard then spent countless hours working on his shooting over the summer. The work has paid off, as Howard's three-point and free throw shooting percentages have risen significantly since last season. He's also providing the leadership Prosser requested, through both his words and deeds; for instance on Feb. 2 he sank the game-winning basket with 21.4 seconds remaining and finished with a career-high 32 points in a 79-75 win at North Carolina. "Josh really imbues our other players with a high level of courage," Prosser says. "He's never afraid or intimidated out there."
The Man at Manhattan
Jaspers' Flores Is Flourishing
In April 1999 Luis Flores was walking through the gym at Manhattan College, on his way to sign a letter of intent to play for the Jaspers, when his cellphone rang. Flores, then a senior at Norman Thomas High, where he had led all New York City scorers with 35.6 points a game, stopped to take the call from his good friend Jeff Greer, who was a sophomore at Rutgers. Greer told Flores that the Scarlet Knights were about to offer Flores a scholarship. Upon hearing the news, Flores, who had dreamed of playing in the Big East, decided not to sign with Manhattan and a few days later accepted Rutgers's offer.
Flores quickly became frustrated with his lack of playing time with the Scarlet Knights (he averaged 3.9 points in 10.5 minutes per game as a freshman), and after the season he wondered if he might be happier as a Jasper after all. "In my heart I knew I should be at Manhattan," says Flores.
Flores, a 6'2" shooting guard, has flourished with the Jaspers. Now a junior, he was averaging 25 points a game through Sunday. Manhattan (19-5), which has beaten St. John's and Seton Hall this year, had won 15 straight until last Thursday's 70-68 loss to Fairfield. The Jaspers had a half-game lead over Fairfield and were looking to win their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title since 1995. "Luis is the best player in this league since Lionel Simmons was a senior at La Salle [in 1990]," says Marist coach Dave Magarity. "If Manhattan gets into the NCAA tournament, they'll be dangerous because Flores is so hard to defend."
Flores was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the Washington Heights section of New York City when he was eight. Throughout his teens Flores and Francisco Garcia, who is now an outstanding freshman at Louisville, played one-on-one at the playground on 185th Street and Broadway, sometimes until four in the morning.