However, the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for a lengthy period of time, and had to overcome a lingering back injury that began to hamper his recruitment.
"I was hurt for a long time and people really couldn't see how I well I could play," said Howell. "I didn't stop working. I kept rehabbing and once I got back to 100% I started to show everybody again what I could do."
Howell emerged this spring and summer as a focal point for NC State and a host of college programs. After a stellar week at Reebok U., he continued his strong play at the 2008 Peach State Summer Showcase.
In three games, Howell posted two double-doubles, including a 32-point, 15-rebound effort in the opener. He followed that up with a 20-point, 10-rebound game and in his final contest he totaled 20 points and eight boards to lead his World Wide Orange squad. WWO left the tournament early because they were slated to play in the Adidas Hoops Festival, another event where Howell turned heads.
His final event came in Las Vegas, where Howell helped lead the Renegades Orange deep into the playoffs. At this event, he said he faced two of the top players he would play against all year.
"John Wall and Ryan Kelly for D-One Sports stood out to me the most," said Howell. "I think John Wall is a real good player. He's real quick and he can pass it. Ryan Kelly, we had some battles. He's good... he has a good stroke from outside."
Shortly after the Las Vegas tournaments, Howell was ready to give a verbal commitment. With offers on the table from NC State, Oregon, Marquette, Tennessee, Texas, Memphis, and Oklahoma State among others, Howell sat down with his family and reached a decision. He would play in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the NC State Wolfpack.
"It was an easy decision for me," said Howell. "My mother just moved there from New York... that's a big reason I picked them. Plus, I like coach Lowe, coach Harris and all the players. They are all real cool.
"The other thing is I wanted to come in and play right away. That's what I was looking for and I think they have a need I can come in and fill. I didn't want to go to a school where I would sit out. Everybody think it's the best decision for me."
Howell is currently rated the No. 51 player overall in the 2009 class and the No. 19 power forward by Scout.com. The Marietta (GA) Wheeler star is a versatile talent capable of impacting the game in a variety of ways.
"I think my versatility separates me from everybody else," said Howell. "There are plenty of tall guys who can dribble like me, but they don't have my passing ability or basketball IQ. The coaches at NC State said they like my versatility and how I can handle the ball and pass it."
"Richard is a beast," said fellow Wolfpack verbal Lorenzo Brown. "That's about all I can say. He can bring his big man out of the paint and take him to the hole. He can pass, rebound, and shoot too. I think the injury slowed him down a bit, but he's been killing it now that he's healthy."
Howell is very familiar with Brown, the Pack's star guard commitment in the 2009 class.
"I'm real good friends with Lorenzo," he stated. "We hang out a lot and are tight. He's real smooth. He's a passing guard. He doesn't shoot all the time, and he looks for other people to score. That makes him look good b/c he is so unselfish. Everybody around here knows Lorenzo and how he plays... I really like his whole game."
In Howell's freshman season in Raleigh, NC State is expected to have a frontcourt of Brandon Costner, Tracy Smith, and Dennis Horner. There will be minutes available for incoming freshmen and Howell says that he will be ready to do whatever is asked of him.
"I'm going to listen to the coaches and do what they say," he said. "I'll play anywhere... I just want to play. It can be the three, the four, or the five. I'll do whatever coach Lowe needs me to do. If he wants me to score, I'll score. If he wants me to grab boards, I'll rebound. If he wants me to pass it, I'll make passes."
Howell will be inking with NC State in the fall signing period. As a senior, he hopes to lead Wheeler, the home of former Wolfpack star J.J. Hickson, back to the state title game. Last year Wheeler lost in the championship.
"I think we can get back and win it this year," he said. "That's our goal. We should go undefeated and win the championship."