A Blank Canvas

Anita Howard Brings an Enthusiastic and Creative Approach to Women’s Basketball

Anita Howard says her greatest strength is being a motivator, and if you spend any amount of time with her, you’d be hard-pressed to disagree.

As the new head coach of the women’s basketball team, and the first African American female head coach in the history of the program, Howard is hoping to bring a winning legacy to a struggling program through creativity and a dose of “Vitamin E,” — energy, effort and efficiency — setting high standards for herself, her staff and her players.

She’ll take the reins of an Eagles team that won only two conference games for the last two years, but the challenge only gets her more excited about the future.

“I like having a blank canvas,” said Howard, a 2003 fine art and design graduate from Armstrong. “We won two games last year in conference. You can only go up from there. So I can create this whole culture, this whole legacy — a championship legacy. I can put my own stamp on it.”

Howard left impressive stamps on several institutions before coming to Georgia Southern. She established winning programs at each of her previous schools, appearing in four conference championships and winning two of them. She also took Division II Columbus State to the NCAA Tournament, winning a regional tournament championship and appearing in the Elite 8. She’s earned Coach of the Year honors twice, and boasts an impressive 144-54 overall record.

Anita Howard with members of her basketball team

So what does she think it will take to turn the Eagles program around?

“One of the things that I think we’re going to have to work on is just their championship mindset,” she said. “And that’s not just on the court. It’s just your overall development in totality. We’ve got to believe that we are supposed to win games.”

Howard admitted that the team’s previous records initially worried her, but after looking at the film and especially after practicing with them, she said the record didn’t reflect their talent.

“The biggest thing that jumped out to me in looking at the film and watching them is we just didn’t play a lot of defense,” said Howard. “We had some really good offensive players than can score the ball, but we didn’t play any defense. I know we were dead last in the conference for defense, and so that is a small little tweak that I think is going to help us definitely win more than two games. Yeah, we’re going to have a winning season. I have faith.”

The Eagles will return almost all of their starters to the squad with six seniors, including All-Sun-Belt Guard Alexis Brown. During the summer, Howard recruited graduate student Nikki McDonald, who played for two years at Louisiana Tech, a Division 1 Conference USA school. 

She also recruited a couple of outstanding freshmen in Ja’Nya Love-Hill from Carver High School in Columbus and Jaiden Hamilton from Laney High School in Augusta. Both have state championships on their résumés. Love-Hill is a second-team all-state player and a three-time regional honoree who scored more than 1,000 points in her high school career. Hamilton was named the 2018-2019 Region 4-AA Player of the Year as a senior and scored more than 2,000 points in her high school career. 

Howard also has brought in a wealth of coaching talent from around the world. Assistant coaches Coretta Brown, Chris Straker and Josh Cooperwood have all played or coached at the professional basketball level and will bring their considerable experience to the Eagles team. 

As a head coach, Howard is creative and admits she’s also a little unorthodox. She doesn’t have the team do shootarounds before a game. She doesn’t like long practices, the shortest of which she ended after only 15 minutes. She views her coaching role as holistic, because “it’s so much more than the game of basketball that makes the players play hard.” 

In the end, however, she knows the proof is in performance, and she believes Eagle fans are in for a pleasant surprise.

“I believe we’re going to shock the Sun Belt,” she said. “You’re going to see a totally different team fairly quickly.”

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