Lenzie Howell, 'glue' of 1990 Final Four team, dies at 52

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, July 20, 2020
Arkansas teammates watch from below as Lenzie Howell, center, does a reverse dunk during Final Four practice, Friday, March 30, 1990, in Denver. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
Arkansas teammates watch from below as Lenzie Howell, center, does a reverse dunk during Final Four practice, Friday, March 30, 1990, in Denver. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

FAYETTEVILLE — Lenzie Howell, who led the University of Arkansas basketball team to the 1990 Final Four, died Saturday in his hometown of Dallas. He was 52.

A person in the Dallas County coroner’s office confirmed Howell’s death, but said the cause wasn’t known.

Howell, a 6-4 forward, was voted MVP of the 1990 Midwest Regional by the media after he had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals in the Razorbacks’ 96-73 victory over North Carolina and 21 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in their 88-85 victory over Texas at Reunion Arena in Dallas.

“Lenzie took us to the Final Four,” Nolan Richardson, the Razorbacks’ coach from 1985-2002, said Sunday. “Without him, we don’t get there.”

Howell had 18 points and six rebounds in his final game for the Razorbacks when they lost to Duke 97-83 at the Final Four in Denver.

“Lenzie no question was a stabilizing force for us as a senior, because we had a very young team,” Richardson said. “He was the glue guy that held us together.”

Howell hit 12 of 18 shots against North Carolina. He was 7 of 13 from the field against Texas and 7 of 10 on free throws.

“Lenzie wore North Carolina out,” said Matt Zimmerman, a former Arkansas assistant coach who was a manager on the 1990 team. “Then two days later he played his tail off against Texas.

“I know those games meant the world to Lenzie, but he never talked much about it. He never bragged about himself.”

Howell, who played at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, came to Arkansas as a junior after transferring from San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena, Texas.

Richardson said he went to San Jacinto to recruit a 6-11 center, but wound up falling in love with Howell’s game.

“I found myself watching Lenzie more than I watched the big guy I had gone there to see in the first place,” Richardson said. “As a matter of fact, after about 10 minutes, I liked Lenzie so much and I forgot about the big guy.

“Lenzie wasn’t heavily recruited. I think we beat North Texas to get him. But he was one of the top players I ever coached.”

Howell helped Arkansas win two Southwest Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

As a junior Howell averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds and was voted MVP of the SWC Tournament when he averaged 24.7 points and 10.1 rebounds in the Razorbacks’ victories over Rice, Texas A&M and Texas in Reunion Arena.

Howell’s averages took a slight dip his senior season to 13.9 points and 5.4 rebounds when sophomores Todd Day and Lee Mayberry emerged as stars. Day averaged 19.5 points and Mayberry 14.5 during the 1989-90 season.

“The thing I remember the most about Lenzie is that he was just a great teammate,” said Day, who played in the NBA for eight seasons and is now the coach at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. “He never got upset or jealous of the attention I got or Lee got when we were in the spotlight. He just did whatever we needed him to do.”

Howell shot 52.6% from the field and 76.4% on free throws in helping Arkansas to records of 25-7 and 30-5 in his two seasons. He averaged 2.4 offensive rebounds.

“I’ve never had another kid that was 6-4 and could do what Lenzie could do,” Richardson said. “At that height he was a tremendous offensive rebounder, and he was a very solid defensive player.

“He could run the floor like a deer. He’d get down that sideline on the fast break and get into the short corner for that little jumper he had, and he was deadly with that shot.

“When he got the ball on that wing, you could almost put two points up on the scoreboard every time.

“He was an all-around player. He’d give you points, he’d give you some rebounds, assists, steals. He could block shots. He was a good free throw shooter. He had so many things that he brought to the table.

“He got you what you needed to have in order to be successful.”

In 10 games in Dallas as a Razorback – six in the SWC Tournament, two in the Midwest Regional and two at SMU — Howell averaged 19.3 points and 8.1 rebounds.

“Lenzie always played well in Dallas,” Day said. “He was excited to put on a show back home.

“He was a clutch player, too. He made a lot of big buckets for us.”

Texas Coach Tom Penders heaped praise on Howell after the Razorbacks beat the Longhorns in the 1990 Midwest Regional final.

“Lenzie Howell has come back to his hometown time and time again and proven that he’s one of the best players in the nation,” Penders said. “And I’m not just talking about the Southwest Conference. He’s one of the best in the nation.

“Lenzie is a tough player. He’s the kind of kid that does all the little things well.

“I thought we did a reasonable job on everybody else, but Lenzie just kept coming up with big buckets in key possessions.”

Howell played professionally overseas for 11 seasons in the Netherlands, Turkey and France. He twice was the MVP of the Dutch pro league during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.

“They thought Lenzie was Michael Jordan over there [in the Netherlands],” Richardson said. “I ran into a guy that had played in the league and knew Lenzie and he told me, ‘Man, he’s a big-time player.’”

Richardson said the key to Howell’s success was his consistency.

“His game didn’t go up and down,” Richardson said. “He was pretty steady. Just about every outing, you were going to get from Lenzie the maximum of what a player should be giving.”

Richardson said that Howell called him about three weeks ago.

“Lenzie just wanted to check in and see how we were doing,” Richardson said. “He sounded fine. That’s why it was such a shock to hear that he had passed away.

“He was a delightful young man to coach. He never complained.

“We worked hard, and I’m sure he wasn’t used to the kind of demands that were placed upon on him, but he became one of our team leaders.”

Day got a call on Saturday night informing him of Howell’s death.

“It’s sad to hear that someone in our Razorback family passed away, but especially at such a young age,” Day said. “Lenzie is someone we’re going to miss dearly.”

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