Mississippi State's Tolu Smith, center, passes the ball from between Missouri's Noah Carter, right, and Nick Honor during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won 66-64. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
The Magnolia State’s top college basketball player will be named March 6th.
The Howell Trophy has become synonymous with not only the best players in the state, but perhaps the best players in the nation for college basketball. The name of the trophy provides the reason it is given to the most outstanding player.
Bailey Howell, the former All-American Mississippi State Small Forward who was the second pick in the 1959 NBA Draft with a 12-year professional career where he was a 2-time NBA Champion and 6-time All Star, is the namesake for the trophy that is given to the best college basketball player in the state of Mississippi for that year. Having your number (52) retired by the Mississippi State Bulldogs should be enough, but the grit, tenacity, and love of the game stood out for Howell more than the rest.
In 1959, Mississippi State University forfeited its postseason chances, even with Howell making the consensus All-American team and going 24-1 while winning the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs refused to play due to integration, which left the star upset.
“It was the biggest disappointment of my basketball career,” Howell expressed after the university decision during a reflection to a Mississippi newspaper. “I was never so disappointed.”
Fortunately for Howell, his stock went higher, and he never scored less than double digits throughout his professional career. The small-town, Tennessee native played in over 950 games, averaging 18.7 per game, 9.9 rebounds per game and shooting 48% field goal percentage for twelve NBA seasons.
Since 2004, the Howell Trophy has selected the best of the best as Mississippi State players were awarded nine times versus University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) earning only six during this period.
The first player chosen was former Mississippi State University Power Forward Lawrence Roberts, the nephew of Pass Christian native and Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, who played the NBA for three years with the Memphis Grizzlies and ten more years of professional basketball internationally.
Three players have won the Howell Trophy twice as the trophy is not distinguished to only seniors. Jarvis Varnado, Stefan Moody, and Quinnday Weatherspoon each earned the trophy two times and have had successful professional careers. Varnado and Weatherspoon have both been on teams that won the NBA Championship.
Two of the three men who have been named as finalists for the 2023 Howell Trophy are from Mississippi and the other grew up just north of the stateline in Memphis, Tennessee. They are Austin Crowley of Southern Miss, Matthew Murrell of Ole Miss, and Tolu Smith of Mississippi State.
Crowley, a West Point, Mississippi native, leads the Golden Eagles in scoring at 16.2 points per game. He has scored at least 10 points in 23 games and poured in a career-high 30 points against Appalachian State on December 29. He’s the fourth player in program history to record 61 steals and is the first since Cortez Edwards did it during the 2018-19 season racking up 68 himself.
Murrell is originally from Memphis, where he attended Whitehaven High School for three years before transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida for his senior season. Currently in his Junior year, Murrell has played in 84 games, averaging under fifteen points a game, and earning SEC Academic Honor Roll in the previous two years.
Smith is a 6’11″ Forward who might have the most interesting background of the three finalists. He comes from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and prepped his Sophomore and Junior years at Bay High. The family chose to move to Hawaii for his senior year and he finished at Kahuku High and Intermediate School where he registered 21.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Smith spent his Freshman season at Western Kentucky under former Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury where he appeared in 34 games.
Since transferring to Mississippi State, Smith has made 85 appearances with 50 starts between his three seasons at MSU and Western Kentucky. Smith has secured 675 of his 787 points (85.8 percent), 390 of his 479 rebounds (81.4 percent), 57 of his 65 assists (87.7 percent), 37 of 40 steals (92.5 percent) and 28 of his 38 blocks (73.7 percent) with the Bulldogs.
The vote for the men featured 13 different players representing nine schools receiving votes. In other words, the best of the best in the Magnolia State.
The three finalists and their coaches will be recognized during a luncheon and program on March 6th at the Golden Moon Casino at Pearl River Resort.