Frank Howard breaks down his stealing techniques

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first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Before practice on Thursday, Jan. 17, Frank Howard fixed his eyes on the MacBook screen in front of him. He was watching a replay of Syracuse-Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. When SU led, 89-88, with just over two minutes left in overtime, Howard pounced on Alex O’Connell’s pass. He intercepted the ball and laid it in for two points, pushing SU’s lead to three.Howard rewound the tape. As O’Connell dribbled on the wing, Howard stood at the top of the key, close to Duke star RJ Barrett. Howard recognized SU needed him to rebound in the paint. So he found a midpoint, a few feet from the passing lane, close enough to corral a long rebound — but far enough that he’d bait O’Connell.“I knew Barrett’s the guy they wanted to get the ball to there,” Howard recalled. “I was kind of cheating, looking to cut his lane the whole play. I also knew O’Connell likes to shoot off a pass, and he had the ball, so he’d probably try to pass there.“I timed it, and I got one.”Keen instinct. Deception. Length. The 6-foot-5 Howard uses a number of attributes at the top of the Syracuse (13-5, 4-1 Atlantic Coast) 2-3 zone to clutter passing lanes and sneak into crevices. He strips dribbles and intercepts passes like an NFL cornerback. His knack for stealing requires a combination of positioning, timing and patience.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe senior has established himself as not only Syracuse’s best defender, but one of the best in the country. Last season, he led the ACC in steals per game, and he’s currently  14th in the conference despite missing significant time due to injury.Howard absorbs how ball handlers try to escape traps, navigate the perimeter and dribble-drive. Junior shooting guard Tyus Battle said Howard has an encyclopedic knowledge of the 2-3 zone and opponent tendencies that he’s developed in his four years at SU. He knows where teams try to set screens and where they try to open up passing lanes. Deception helps, too. Howard baits opponents by making ball handlers think he’s resting or sagging off them. Then he makes his move.“I always try to be as big and as tall as possible,” said Howard, who’s averaging 1.6 steals per game. “I might leave a space open, so they think the space is open, then I’ll close it off and take the ball away.”He also has a long wingspan, big hands and tall, skinny fingers. But his ball-hawking has paid a price. When he examined his hand recently, he pointed to a once-broken finger, a jammed thumb and a few cuts. All from poking the ball and sticking his hands in passing lanes.“My hands are done,” Howard joked.There aren’t drills to improve steals, but Howard’s equipped himself with tools that make him a better defender. Assistant coach Gerry McNamara, who averaged 1.9 steals per game for SU between 2002-06, echoes a message during practice: “Know your distance.”Players focus in the Orange’s 2-3 zone where they are in relation to the ball, the opponents near them and their teammates. Being in the right spot puts Howard in prime position to take gambles, which lead to deflections and steals.Anna Henderson | Digital Design EditorGrowing up, Howard said he was taught to watch the man’s hips, not the ball. Now he watches the ball, which he said is a more effective approach. Before his junior season, he wasn’t as good of a defender because he wasn’t fully aware of his distance — to the ball and his man.“I used to overplay by a step,” Howard said. “Sometimes just a centimeter. Now I just know my distance and even their personality. If someone misses a shot or two, they may be looking to pass. Or if they’re in a shooting slump, they’re going to try to move the ball faster. Or maybe the guard is young, I may try to test him a bit.”Howard admitted he’s not one of the fastest or quickest guards on the floor, nor the most athletic. He said he can’t reach for the ball as much as smaller guards because his arms are longer. “It’ll look like a foul if I reach for the ball,” he said. But his reflexes and timing compensate.He estimated about half of his steals aren’t fully his own doing. Many times, he gets one because Battle positioned himself correctly. When Battle’s in the right spot, opponents may be forced to attempt a pass they otherwise wouldn’t. That’s when Howard goes for the ball.“(Howard)’s probably one of the biggest guards in the country,” said assistant coach Allen Griffin, a former SU guard who averaged 1.9 steals per game as a senior. “But it’s not just length. Frank knows when a screen’s coming. He can feel, anticipate, read it.”Sitting in the Carmelo K. Anthony Center last week, Howard glued his eyes to highlights from Syracuse-Georgetown last season. Down two, the Orange needed a stop. At the top of the key, Hoyas center Jessie Govan was guarded by Paschal Chukwu while Howard covered his area near the wing. Howard racks up lot of steals from forwards and centers by looking at their eyes. A guard can deceive you, he said, but bigs generally signal what they’re going to do.As Govan put his head down, Howard took a chance. Govan’s eyes lowered to the floor. He put the ball on the ground and tried to drive right, around Chukwu. Howard cut off his angle, poked the ball loose and finished at the other end to tie game.“When we run a good zone, you know you have a security blanket behind you,” Howard said. “You’re willing to stick your nose in there.” Published on January 24, 2019 at 12:03 am Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21center_img Commentslast_img

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