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AP photo by Wade Payne / Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard, left, collides with Tennessee guard Jordan Walker while driving around a screen by Dre'una Edwards during Sunday's SEC basketball showdown in Knoxville. Howard, a former Bradley Central High School standout, scored a game-high 24 points, but No. 5 Tennessee beat the No. 19 Wildcats 84-58.

KNOXVILLE — When one is confident in his or her training, there's no need to worry.

That's why Kentucky senior guard Rhyne Howard plays basketball so effortlessly. It's also why her mother, Rhvonja "RJ" Avery, doesn't appear to get overly stressed when watching her daughter play a high-profile Southeastern Conference matchup.

Each knows the work the former Bradley Central High School standout has put into the game to get where she is now: among the best in the nation.

The awards snubs that appeared to haunt the Cleveland, Tennessee, native in her high school career as well as her early days at the next level are more of a distant memory.

Just last season, Howard was a first-team All-American by every major publication, as well as a finalist for the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Wade Trophy, one of five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award, one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy and a finalist for the Cheryl Miller Award — all honors given to the best player in college basketball.

Howard has averaged 19.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists this season for the 19th-ranked Wildcats, who are 8-5 overall and 1-2 in SEC play after Sunday's 84-58 loss to No. 5 Tennessee (17-1, 6-0) at Thompson-Boling Arena, where she had 24 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals in 35 minutes.

She continues to etch her name in Kentucky's career record book for scoring — moving into third place with 1,905 points — and steals, where she sits ninth with 233. She's also in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage and 3-pointers made while creeping toward the top 10 in assists and rebounds.

"The attention is going to come if you're producing for your team," Howard said Sunday. "I'm just going to focus in on what we've learned. I can't worry about that (the attention). I just have to worry about being there for my team, and be what they need me to be and play as hard as they need me to play."

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Kentucky senior guard Rhyne Howard

Even as the spotlight becomes brighter than ever, nothing has changed for Howard or her mother, who prepped at Brainerd and played collegiately at Florida.

"It's been fun, just watching her reap the rewards of coming from the shadows of the unknown," Avery — who on Sunday sat with fifth-year Lee University guard Halle Hughes and her parents, Richie and Stephanie — said prior to the game.

"She's just worked hard. She didn't go to a lot of places where people were pushing her name out there, so nobody knew a Rhyne Howard, so it's just fun to come from out of the shadows of the unknown as she continues to play and continues to work on that game, because she still has a lot to accomplish and a lot to work on."

Multiple mock drafts have projected Howard as one of the top two picks — along with Baylor's NaLyssa Smith — in the Women's National Basketball Association this year.

After Kentucky's season concludes, getting ready for the WNBA draft is the next step in the process for Howard, who was both trained and coached by her mother. Avery noted the process at times has now become "a little bit overwhelming."

"I try not to talk to her a whole lot about it because I don't want to put a whole lot of undue pressure on her," Avery said. "This is her last year; she does have a lot of goals, as she does every year. We talk about them and I try to help her reach them.

"I think she's going to do what she needs to do to reach them."

And when you trust the training, there's no reason not to trust and believe.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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