Anita Howard bringing high energy, excitement to Georgia Southern

Coming off of a 7-win season that saw the team only win two games in the Sun Belt Conference, you may not know to look toward Statesboro, Georgia and Georgia Southern when trying to find a women’s basketball program in the midst of a reinvention. Sure, the expectations may not be particularly high across the country, but don’t tell that to new Head Women’s Basketball Coach Anita Howard. Howard has made a career of turning programs around and building a legacy at each stop along the way.

Besides – the expectations of others have never compromised the lofty goals Howard consistently sets for herself and her program.

“I’ve taken opportunities that others turn their nose at, but even with low expectations, I’ve always wanted to change those expectations for our players and leave a legacy,” said Howard, who was named the eighth Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Georgia Southern this past March. “I tell my players to be good at their job, and my job is to be the best I can be for them and give whoever gave me an opportunity more than they paid for. I want to make the most of where I’m at.”

While Howard has a lot of work in front of her, there’s no doubt that she’s confident about what lies ahead. She has made a name for herself in being “the first”. When she was hired by Georgia Southern, she became the first African-American female to lead the Eagles’ program. Add that to a list that includes being the first African-American female to lead Columbus State Women’s Basketball (where she took her team to an Elite Eight) and Salem College, as well as the first to serve on the Board of Directors of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and it’s clear that leading the way isn’t something she shies away from.

To better understand Howard’s relentless energy and enthusiasm requires looking back on just how far she has come to get to here. She decided to join the coaching ranks to give back to young female athletes and empower them to see the world and better themselves through basketball (she calls this the “gift of the globe”). Her ability to enhance the lives of her student-athletes on and off the court came quickly in her first opportunity at Salem College, and it encouraged her to continue to push higher.

Satavia Taylor was Howard’s first recruit at Salem College, and a student-athlete she had recruited as an assistant coach. Once Howard was named Head Coach, Taylor came to Salem and struggled off the court early on. Her new Head Coach fought to give her another chance, and Taylor found massive success on the court with it. The recruit from inner-city Chicago was able to capture two Conference Player of the Year Awards and numerous other accolades. Today, she works as a coach and a teacher.

“You have to build the confidence in people wearing the same logo as you,” said Howard, who – aside from getting a new job herself this offseason – played an integral role in three other coaches being hired to lead programs as well.

From Salem, she moved onto Livingstone College where she had immediate success and brought the program to a Top-5 ranking. From there, she took an opportunity at Columbus State that both brought her home and into a strong Division II conference – the Peach Belt Conference. There, she took a program that had middling success and turned it quickly into a premier Division II program. The move wasn’t only a good one from a career standpoint, but it brought her back home to Georgia. With family close by, the program saw itself become the best defensive team in the nation.

You’ll probably continue to hear more about Howard and her Georgia Southern program more than you might expect if the past is any indication. She has left all programs she has coached at in much better positions than from when she arrived, while also making an impact in the college and local communities as well. She was named the Great South Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2013 (while Head Coach at Salem College), the John “Whack” Hyder Georgia College Women’s Coach of the Year in 2017, and the 2017-18 Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year award as well.
Recently, she was named to the Georgia Southern University Alumni Association’s 40 under 40 Class, and it’s clear through her social media accounts (@CoachAGHoward on Twitter) that there’s a new infectious energy permeating throughout the athletic department.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The biggest thing I learned early on was to always be me. If anybody knows who Anita Howard is, they know I’m unapologetically me,” said Howard. “If I try to be somebody else, I usually fail.”

And, while she typically echoes that “simple is better”, there’s nothing simple about what she intends to do in the coming seasons at Georgia Southern.

“ I’m home, and I’m now at the Division I level, and I’m at a place where they wanted me,” added Howard. “They’ve embraced me here and we haven’t won a game yet. I want them to continue to embrace me. Everybody’s excited.”

If history is any indication, they’ll be enough excitement to go around in the near future.

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