COLLEGE PARK ——Pe'Shon Howard extends his wrists to display tattoos of stars — the sort you might see on the door to a Hollywood actor's dressing room.
They are appropriate symbols for a point guard who grew up immersed in celebrity culture as the grandson of a Los Angeles hair stylist who worked on movie sets with Eddie Murphy and other A-list actors.
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But then the Maryland sophomore — whose Terps (10-3) play their first Atlantic Coast Conference game of the season Sunday at North Carolina State (11-4) — lifts the front of his practice jersey to reveal another, much larger tattoo on his torso. It is of a bespectacled, middle-aged man.
The tattoo — a rendering of the grandfather who raised him — is, in a sense, a counterweight to the more visible ones on his wrists.
For all his star qualities — the effervescence, charming smile, between-the-legs passes and Hollywood upbringing — Howard said it was his stable relationship with his grandfather that anchored him.
He needed to be grounded before he could reach for the sky.
"Like father, like son," the tattoo's inscription says. It's meant as a tribute to Bill Howard, whom Pe'Shon calls "Dad."
"He pretty much changed my life. He pretty much saved my life," Howard said softly, reverentially. "I'd always say I'm grateful for him every day. That's why I have a tattoo, because wherever I go, he's always with me."
Bill Howard, who now lives in College Park, also has a tattoo. His says "Pe'Shon."
"I did what I know to be the correct thing to do," the elder Howard said of raising Pe'Shon. "Pe'Shon is a good human being. I'm not going to take credit for that. He's just a nice, nice person."
It's hard to overstate the importance of Howard to the Terps, who have won seven games in a row but are young and untested. The North Carolina State game will be Maryland's first on an opponent's home court.
The 6-foot-3 Howard, who returned from a broken bone in his left foot four games ago and is averaging 7.3 points 4.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, is the flashy floor leader — a rare player who thinks "pass" before "shoot."
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon loves Howard's work habits, unselfish instincts and rugged man-to-man defense. He also believes Howard sometimes tries to do too much, such as trying to thread a pass through a tiny opening.
There are Howard highlight videos on the Internet in which he throws passes between his legs and around his back. In one summer-league highlight, he dribbles the ball between an opponent's legs before continuing a fast break. Even with a cast on, Howard would hop around the court on one leg trying trick shots on the practice court earlier this season.
"He does have a little gusto to him," said Steve Smith, Howard's coach at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. "But he was very coachable. I can't think of another player I had that started three years."
Growing up, Howard had long eyed Oak Hill, known nationally for showcasing top basketball talent. When he was in about seventh grade, he wrote to the school expressing interest. He remembers that the academy spelled his name wrong in its reply. "I think they spelled the 'Shon' like 'Shawn' and I think it was 'Keyshawn.' I was kind of sad about it."
But Howard caught Smith's eye later on and ended up playing for him along with Brandon Jennings, now with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Turgeon's task is a balancing act. He hopes to add discipline to his point guard's game without undermining the enthusiasm — the "Hollywood" — that is an essential part of who Howard is.
"We tell him all the time he doesn't always have to have ketchup or mustard on that hot dog," Turgeon said.
Howard is his own worst critic. He will slap himself on the hip following turnovers, which he will later recount to the media in detail.
"I have way too many turnovers (16 in four games). I want to do good so bad," Howard said. "I was running with (center) Alex (Len at practice) and he was on the fast break ahead of me, and I thought he knew he would be open. But he wasn't looking."
The lesson? Howard said coaches have told him: "Don't think for you AND the other player."
A basketball odyssey
Howard said he emulated longtime NBA guard Sebastian Telfair, who was known for his showmanship as a New York high school player. "I don't know if Coach Turgeon would be happy, because I think I got some flair from him," Howard said with a smile.
Howard said his grandfather took him to see Telfair, LeBron James and other luminaries play in tournaments while the players were in high school. He also took him to the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Bill Howard has long been listed as Pe'Shon's father in the player's basketball biographies and calls himself the "dad." Out of respect for Pe'Shon's privacy, the elder Howard said he did not want to discuss details about the player's earliest years. Nor did Pe'Shon talk about that, although he did say he is in contact with his birth mother. Pe'Shon and Oak Hill's Smith both said Bill Howard is Pe'Shon's grandfather.
Bill Howard said he raised Pe'Shon to have "social graces" and to be prepared for whatever he might encounter in life — including the possibility that he might one day have his own star turn in the sports world.
In Los Angeles, Pe'Shon mingled with Murphy, Halle Berry, Kobe Bryant and other stars. Bill Howard said he worked on a number of films, including "Coming to America" and "The Flintstones."
"I started (Pe'Shon) early on. He was about seven or eight. I would give him a microphone and sit him in a chair and he would write questions and be the interviewer. He'd act as if he were in front of a camera asking questions," Bill Howard said. "I knew if he wanted to be a performer in sports, it would help him to be comfortable in front of people."
Said Pe'Shon: "I would come over after school or after practice or whatever and I would be in the (movie) trailer with him and I would meet a lot of people. I was comfortable answering all kinds of questions from adults."
At Maryland, Pe'Shon is known for being relaxed with the media. "I'm back, y'all!" he shouted to reporters after his first game of the season, a Dec. 23 win over Radford. Four seconds after entering the game, he threw a no-look bounce pass to a cutting Sean Mosley, who was fouled.
As Pe'Shon grew up, his grandfather moved to be near the player during stops at St. Edward High School in Ohio, Oak Hill, and now Maryland.
"California is a long way away," Bill Howard said. "Wherever he is, I won't be far."