Howell: 'It's a Dream Come True'

NC State signee Richard Howell concluded his career a state champion as he helped lead Marietta (GA) Wheeler past Alpharetta (GA) Milton High 73-53 to win the Class AAAAA title on Friday night.

NC State signee Richard Howell concluded his career a state champion as he helped lead Marietta (GA) Wheeler past Alpharetta (GA) Milton High 73-53 to win the Class AAAAA title on Friday night.

One of the top basketball programs in the state of Georgia, Wheeler was playing in its seventh final under legendary head coach Doug Lipscomb, winning its fifth title overall and fourth this decade.

"I'm happy for coach Lipscomb," said Howell. "In my opinion, he's the best high school coach in America because he knows the game and he puts his teams in a position to win games. I look up to him a lot, and he's made me a better player."

Howell and Wake Forest signee Ari Stewart were too much in the paint for Milton, and their play proved the be the deciding factor. Milton features talented underclassmen Shannon Scott, Dai-Jon Parker, and Julian Royal, but the trio couldn't match up with the overall experience and talent that Wheeler put on the floor.

The Wildcats led for much of the game, jumping out to a 27-14 lead and never looked back. Milton cut the lead down to as low as five in the third quarter, but Wheeler used another run to pull back ahead 47-33 after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter Howell made several big plays that virtually prevented Milton from making a comeback. With his team ahead 60-41, Howell scored on a nifty fastbreak layup around Scott, and on the next possession he forced a steal, was fouled and made one of two free throws. A few trips later, Howell had a breakaway and looked to be driving for another score but instead tossed an alley-oop to Stewart who jammed it home, giving Wheeler a 65-43 lead.

That play essentially iced the game for the Wildcats, and in the final minute coach Lipscomb was able to empty his bench, drawing an ovation from the crowd.

"That was a huge turning point in the game... that stretch," said Howell. "There was one point I thought they may make a run, but we stepped up and ended any chance of that. We were all on the same page and played Wheeler basketball."

The win was especially sweet for Howell and the other seniors on the team, as Wheeler lost in last year's title game to rival Norcross. The Wildcats got revenge this season as they knocked Norcross out of the playoffs earlier in the tournament.

"I think it would have been even better beating Norcross in the championship this year," said Howell. "But I'll take the title just how we got it. It's a dream come true."

Howell totaled 20 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in his final high school game. NC State assistant Larry Harris was on hand for Wheeler's big win.

"I'm glad coach Harris was there," said Howell. "It shows me that he's still interested in seeing how I play... my high school games and not just that I'm going to play for him. That's another reason I'm ready to play for NC State... I can tell they want me to go in there and help them win games. Coach Harris jokes around with me a lot about how they are going to use me but we haven't really sit down and talked about it."

Next up for the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder is a pair of all-star games. He will be suiting up for the United States All-Stars in the 2009 Charm City Challenge, and that game will be played on April 5th in Baltimore, Maryland. Joining Howell on the team will be Ari Stewart and fellow NC State signee Lorenzo Brown. Howell stated he has also committed to play in this year's Capital Classic, which is held in Washington D.C.

"I just want to go out and have fun in those games," he added. "I should have a good time."

Howell reiterated that his grades are fine, and he projects as a full qualifier. He will now turn his attention to improving his game and conditioning before enrolling in Raleigh.

"I'm doing good in school," he said. "Right now I have all B's... I'm going to be good to go. I'm looking to improve my 3-point shooting and keep working on my body. I'm ready to get to college and play."

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