Even as a freshman, when Howell was playing sparingly behind Dennis Horner and Tracy Smith he managed to lead the team in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage.
Since then, he just keeps getting better. As a sophomore he led the team in both categories once again while ranking sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. Last year he once again led the team in both categories and ranked 15th nationally on the offensive boards.
So it's no surprise that Howell is once again dominating the boards as a senior. Howell has grabbed 29 offensive rebounds – the rest of the team has a combined 67. His 57 defensive rebounds also lead the team.
"I've had a couple [good rebounders] but [Richard Howell] is as good as I've had probably," head coach Mark Gottfried said. "His hands are so good. When he gets his hands on it, he's got it."
"He just gets every rebound. He's cleaning up some mistakes defensively when we make them."
The big leap for Howell this year hasn't been in his rebounding though, it's been in his ability to finish around the basket. After shooting under 50 percent from the floor as a junior, Howell has become one of the most efficient scorers in the nation – shooting 66 percent from the floor (a figure that ties him for 10th in the nation in field goal percentage).
The problem for Howell has never been producing when he was on the court – it's been staying on the court. As a freshman and sophomore he was limited both by the players in front of him and his conditioning. As a junior he slimmed up but couldn't stay out of foul trouble, playing just 27 minutes a game. It's remained a problem into his junior year despite being a point of emphasis for him in the offseason, as he's playing just 26 minutes a game up to this point.
"I think the main thing is my fouling. I reached a lot when I shouldn't have and I feel like that's a growing stage," Howell said at ACC Media Day in October. "I feel like if I don't reach a lot then we'll be alright."
Howell was more right than he knew at the time, as the Pack is 0-2 in games where Howell fouls out and undefeated otherwise. Because of foul trouble, Howell has played a full 40 minutes less than his front-court mate CJ Leslie and is tied for fifth on the team in minutes played.
"Not necessarily," Gottfried said. "I think the biggest key for Richard has been his ability to stay in the game and not be saddled with foul trouble. I think he's a different player... obviously when he stays in the game we're a different team."
"If he ends up with one or two fouls early in the game he just seems... that's hard for him to overcome."
The encouraging news for Pack fans is that since the loss to Michigan, Howell has just four fouls spread over three games. Not coincidentally, Howell had a double-double in each of those games and is coming off an absolutely dominant 12 point, 19 rebound, and five block performance against an overmatched Norfolk State team.
"I just think for him, staying out of foul trouble changes the way he plays," Gottfried said.
If he's finally learned how to stay on the court, the Pack becomes a much tougher team to beat.