An all-around asset
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Junior Walter Howard's consistency on offense and defense helped propel a successful Citrus squad.
By DAWN REISS
Published March 20, 2005
INVERNESS - On a senior-laden squad, Citrus junior Walter Howard was a standout.
The 6-foot-5 forward dominated the boards, averaging 13.4 points and 10 rebounds.
He racked up 76 blocked shots to lead Citrus County and had 56 assists, second best on the team.
Howard netted double-digit averages despite playing on a balanced squad, where forward Donnie Ross (13.4) and point guard R.J. Cobb (11.3) averaged more than 10 points a game.
"There are many players out there that wouldn't be able to handle not being the leading scorer every night," Citrus coach Tom Densmore said.
"Those three (Howard, Ross and Cobb) combined for 38-point averages on the team, but Howard could have scored more of those 38 on almost any other team.
"He's an unselfish player who's willing to share the wealth."
Be it points or wisecracks about the Citrus juniors being better athletes than the seniors, Howard always had enough to go around.
Howard's confidence on the court helped to monopolize space in the paint. Off the court, he particularly loved calling Cobb "Rudy," short for his first name, Rudolph, and tried to get everyone else to do the same.
"He's a funny guy, I almost let him change it. ... He loves to joke around that way," Cobb said."... I really admire Walt for everything he's done. He always came up with big plays."
Other players in Citrus and Hernando counties averaged more points than Howard, but it was his consistency and versatility that helped Howard earn Times' Citrus-Hernando player of the year honors.
Citrus' speed and ability to run the fast break fed off Howard's defensive rebounding. Howard could drive inside and led with fierce board play.
If the 'Canes wanted to get the ball to Ross, it often was Howard who fed him the ball.
When Howard couldn't get inside, he went to the arch, sometimes nailing as many as five or six 3-pointers in a night.
"He's the total package" Densmore said. "When it was close late in the game, Walt came through."
After losing to Leesburg three times during the regular season, Citrus got revenge in the Class 4A, District 9 championship.
Backed by Howard, with help from Ross, they controlled the boards and propelled a 19-9 run in the fourth quarter for a 51-46 victory against top-seeded Leesburg. It was a Howard offensive rebound turned quick bucket that brought Citrus within two points, and his 3-of-4 free throws gave 'Canes the lead.
"He carried all of us seniors on his shoulders this season," teammate Brad Lattin said. "There's no doubt that he's our team's MVP."
Dawn Reiss can be reached at 352 564-3628 or firstname.lastname@example.org