Commitment Notebook: Fierce Howard chooses Murray State, Hopkins to Kentucky

TaKiya Howard handles the ball in a February contest against Mother McAuley. Beverley Review photo by Tim O’Brien

TaKiya Howard didn’t have to lead her team in scoring to be the type of impact player that caused colleges to come running.

Now a 5-10 senior guard who helped lead the 17-15 De La Salle Meteors last season as a junior, Howard committed to the Division I Murray State Racers on Oct. 19, telling that the Racers program fits her and her style of play.

“Murray State made the decision easy because of the environment they created, and I could tell I would be going there after our first conversation,” Howard said. “The coaching staff and the school as a whole I knew would be a good fit.”

The Racers are getting a fiery competitor in their 2021 class.

“She plays with a fierceness and an intensity that you can see it when it just takes over her when she’s agitated,” De La Salle coach John Smith said. “She uses anger to fuel her. Early in her career, she played with glasses on. Anytime another team would knock her glasses off, it would fuel the fire and you could see it in her face.”

Howard says that trait is unique to her family.

“It’s a bloodline thing,” Howard said. “Silent killer. A fierceness that strong just comes natural, something you have within you. It can’t be taught.”

Howard plays in-your-face defense, creating transition opportunities for her Meteors teammates; she led De La Salle in rebounding (6.0 per game) and assists (4.0 per game), in addition to scoring 13.5 per game and nabbing 3.2 steals per game.

Smith said that he’s known that Howard playing high-level basketball was a possibility since she walked in the door as a freshman.

“At De La Salle we haven’t had a lot of Division I girls,” Smith said. “She’s actually probably the third in the school’s history and probably the first to have a commitment this early.”

While Chicago Public Schools will not likely play this winter, De La Salle potentially could still play a schedule, though much remains uncertain, as Jakub Rudnik detailed as much in the Illinois High School Basketball Newsletter.

Beverly Review photo by Tim O’Brien

To help the Meteors succeed, Smith expects Howard to pick up some of the scoring slack, after the Meteors lost then-freshman Ayanna Jackson. Howard and Janiece Dawson figure to be a potential strong tandem should the season be played, though basketball in the state is prospectively pushed back to the spring, possibly even the summer.

The senior guard said she wants to play at the highest level, and has long looked up to Michael Jordan. In the new wave of basketball stars, former Murray State point guard Ja Morant stands out in her mind as a player to embody or mimic.

“We’re going and trying to play some of the tough competition,” Smith said. “And she has taken that and used whatever she’s learned on the AAU circuit and brought it back each year to add to her game and add to us.”

Howard added on to the sentiment about her year-round hoops training.

“School ball and AAU has sped the game up and slowed it down to where I’ve played in both tempos of the game,” Howard said. “(They) helped me elevate my game to the next level by making me play out of my comfort to get used to being uncomfortable.”

Bryce Hopkins chooses Kentucky

In the most high-profile commitment in the state of Illinois since Rolling Meadows’ Max Christie committed to Michigan State, Bryce Hopkins handed down his own big news Thursday. At one point a Lousiville commit, the 6-5, smooth-scoring wing for Fenwick in Oak Park has chosen to head to the Bluegrass State after all, where he’ll play for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Hopkins was the Chicago Catholic League’s Player of the Year last season, averaging 24 points per game, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

“When they offered, it was a bit of a dream come true,” Hopkins told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Henrickson, “As a kid, it was one of my dream schools. I watched them on TV, knew of their great history, the résumé of the program and all the players they have sent to the NBA. It’s a program that has always stood out.”

Rufus just around the bend

York senior guard Amaya Rufus will be heading to school in South Bend, but she won’t be seeing green in her future. Instead, Rufus announced Friday that she will take the court for the South Bend branch campus of Indiana University, playing for the Titans under coach Steve Bruce, who is entering his 15th year as head coach.

The Titans, who play at the NAIA level, own a record 225-207 with seven 20-plus-win seasons under Bruce. Rufus is used to winning basketball at York, which posted a record of 26-8 and won a Class 4A regional title last season.

Under-the-radar pickup

In an environment plenty recognized as a hotbed of talent and development, Bolingbrook basketball scores yet another college commitment as Raiders senior point guard Kyonte Thomas committed to Trinity International in Deerfield on Thursday.

Another Raiders product is already a TIU Trojan athlete, as now-senior Brandon Lawani is also from Bolingbrook.

Trinity International was 6-22 in the 2019-2020 season in coach Greg Miller’s first year in Deerfield. Thomas, now a senior, will bring a winning culture to Trinity International, as his Raiders squad went 26-6 in the 2019-2020 season.

Oh look, another Trojan

Lake Zurich’s Ashley Geisler will continue her hoops career at Trinity International after playing for the Bears program in this, her senior season.

Geisler can play from the perimeter to the inside and shows a knack for finding open teammates, something that could help her find time on the floor for TIU.

The Trojans went 18-13 in the 2019-2020 season, the first winning season for TIU in nine years. It was coach Irvin Jerry’s second year at the helm of the program.

Look for the next Commitment Notebook on Glenbard West senior and Carnagie Mellon commit Aidan Murphy.

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