Pick any facet of guard play, and it’s a good chance that Howie Rankine has it covered.
Need a dribble-drive guy who isn’t afraid to venture into the thick of things into order to break down a defense? A spot-up shooter with a reliable jump shot? A distributor who can find the open man? How about someone willing to punch above their weight class on a defensive assignment?
The Carlisle senior checks all those boxes, a versatility that has made him the keystone for a Thundering Herd squad that entered the season — and its grinder of schedule — light on varsity experience. As befitting a squad that is learning on the go, its’s been a promising but inconsistent ride thus far
Rankine, who is second in the Sentinel area with 201 points while averaging 18.3 pointers per game, has done his part to provide stability for a squad that is 4-7 (3-5 Commonwealth) and on pace for its worst season in more than five years.
“Howie has a lot of responsibility,” Carlisle head coach Andre Anderson said. “Him and Kurtis [Ravenel] were the only two guys that returned this year that played significant varsity minutes. Howie was a 12-point-a-game scorer for us last year, so he knew coming into this year that he was going to have to carry the load on offense. To see him play that many minutes on back-to-back nights [last week against Mifflin County and Reading] shows you how well he is conditioned. He does not back down from a challenge.”
Last week’s slate was indicative of the challenges facing both Rankine and the Herd as a whole. Carlisle played three games in four days after its holiday layoff, a schedule that was bookended by matchups with perennial District 3 Class 6A contenders Harrisburg and Reading.
Rankine was in the thick of things in all three games, averaging 22 points per outing, and Anderson used him in different fashions depending on the possession — sometimes as point guard with primary ball-handling duties, sometimes as a shooting guard with sets designed to get him open looks.
He also matched up with some of the district’s best on the other end, including Harrisburg’s Davon Lee and Reading’s Wesley Butler, who had 17 and 21 points, respectively.
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“I love it,” Rankine said. “I think those kinds of matchups bring out the best in whoever is competing. It brings that level of competition up and makes the game fun.”
Rankine’s experience helps make him comfortable with those assignments.
He took his practice lumps as one of just two sophomores (along with teammate Trevor Hamilton) on Carlisle’s 2016-17 squad that made a run to the state semifinals. Rankine’s game minutes were few that season, but he didn’t miss an opportunity to learn from an accomplished group of upperclassmen.
“That year I took a lot in, just watching what was happening around me,” Rankine said. “I think it helped guide me through my junior and senior year to step up and become a leader for the team. Watching guys like Ethan [Houston], Deshawn [Millington], Ben Milligan, Nate [Barnes] — all those guys knew how to be leaders. I want come out every night and do the same thing.”
Rankine showed that effort in the Herd’s Jan. 5 loss to Reading.
He knocked down a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left that knotted the game, part of a 23-point outing. Perhaps even more importantly, he dished out seven assists, four of them setting up 3-pointers by fellow senior Clay Burkett.
Despite the loss, the effort and performance against the Red Knights was the type that could bode well for the Herd moving forward.
Carlisle is sixth in the division after one turn through the Mid-Penn Commonwealth schedule and is in 20th in the District 3 Class 6A power rankings (12 teams qualify) entering Wednesday’s slate of games. It would be the first time since 2012 that the Herd would not make the postseason.
It should also win the 5-foot-11 Rankine some new admirers among college coaches as he continues to showcase his willingness to take on any job.
“He’s one of those guys who’s a diamond in the rough,” Anderson said. “He can make a college really happy. I can’t say enough about him. He’s a leader, and he does it by example both in practice and in the game.”