NAIA Player Spotlight: Raylon Howard – University of Saint Mary (KS)
For some, the journey is too tough, and they lose their way before their real journey can even begin. There are some really good players, all over the world, who just gave up, before their chance was given. Then you have guys like Raylon Howard, who is going to be a Senior guard at the University of Saint Mary (USM) in Kansas.
You see, growing up, Ray shared his love of basketball with his mom and dad. It’s all he wanted to do. Then, his life turned upside down when his dad died. For Ray, it was the toughest stretch of his life, but his connection to his dad through basketball was one that he still felt. Ray was only 5’5 as a Freshman in high school. Then, even a a senior in high school, Ray had only grown to 6’0 tall. He battled in his own head on whether he was good enough or not. He was thinking of giving his dreams of playing college basketball up. He had no offers, and had lost belief in himself. In that moment his mom, who he says is his best friend, and his AAU coaches were the biggest backers he had. They believed in him, and encouraged him to keep working. With their encouragement, Ray decided to play AAU basketball after his senior year, in hopes of getting a scholarship to play college basketball. He was playing on an unsigned senior AAU team, at the last event of the summer. With no offers going into the tournament, doubt was starting to settle back into his head. Ray ended up playing really well and a couple of local JUCO coaches in Coach Havens and Coach Graham from Richland College (TX) took notice. Ray credits them for changing his life, and giving him a chance. Those two years at Richland were tough for Ray, especially in his first year. He once again, wondered to himself, if he needed to give up on basketball. Coach Havens and Coach Graham both encouraged him to come back for his second year. He did, and ended up playing well. Through all of the hardships, God had started to put Ray in a position to receive offers from four year programs. Ray said that it was a crazy process, but that he will always love Coach Havens, Coach Graham and the entire Richland family. #RichWay
With all the offers Ray had, and a new growth spurt that took him to 6’5, it was time for Ray to figure out where he wanted to finish his career. Ray really was cautious in the recruiting process. He was looking for a program who wasn’t just selling him a dream, but a program that would be the best fit for him both academically as well as athletically. He took his time with the process. He went to visit every single school to try and find that fit he was needing. It was a difficult process for Ray, because he built a bond with some great coaches. At the end of the day, Ray wanted someone he believed in, and someone who he felt had his best interest at heart. The University of Saint Mary and Coach Brown was that place. With Coach Brown, the vibe Ray felt, was just different. The things he said made Ray feel like that in his heart the University of Saint Mary was home.
In his first season as a Spire, Ray lived up to his end of the bargain as well. He averaged 15.6 points, and 5.5 rebounds per game last season on his way to earning Third Team All-Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) honors. He loves playing for Coach Brown and his staff, and appreciates them for their honesty in their vision they had for him at USM. He said that Coach Brown is a person of his word and their bond is stronger than ever. Ray loves Coach for believing in him, and for giving him the opportunity to play at USM.
Raylon has a lot of respect and appreciation for the KCAC. Being from Texas, Ray said that, in his opinion, Texas has some of the best basketball players in the country. With that in mind, he thought that playing college basketball in Kansas meant that it was going to be an easy final two years to his college career. It didn’t take long for Ray to realize that the KCAC was really tough, and the players in the league were better then what he was expecting. Ray loves the KCAC, and the talent in the league has helped him to be a better player.
As a student-athlete, Ray loves a challenge. He admits that managing school and basketball is difficult, especially once the season officially starts. Having to balance long practices, traveling for games, and catching up on homework all comes with being a student-athlete. Ray said that he is enjoying the entire student-athlete life. He appreciates it more, because he almost gave up, long before this journey even began. Now, he is making the best of his situation and loves connecting with his professors. Ray also said that it has been cool to connect with people back in his hometown of Fort Worth, and people being able to see him doing well.
After high school, Ray was on the verge of giving up. Now, he heads into his senior year of college, not only looking forward to earning a college degree, but he also says that he has some unfinished business on the floor as well. Ray said that none of this would be possible without God, and he is appreciative of all the opportunities God has put before him. Ray is finally playing with confidence and is excited to be the leader for his team this year. He’s been working hard all summer long, and hopes that he can help to lead Saint Mary to the NAIA DII National Tournament this year. Ray’s journey is a special one. A journey that almost didn’t take place. A journey for a kid that we are rooting for, and excited about following!