Photo courtesy of Greg Caroccio/Sideline Photos.
By David Cordova
There are always coaches that have been assistant coaches for very long period of time that are waiting for their chance to shine as a head coach. And when they get it, they plan to achieve all of their goals, step by step.
At this present time, that rhetoric applies to Ashley Howard. Recently, he was an assistant coach at Villanova University, a national powerhouse from the Big East Conference, where they won two national championships in the last three years. Now, he is taking on a new mission as the head coach at La Salle University, which is in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
“Honestly, man, I just want to have a team that plays hard, plays together, that when you watch our team you can tell that they’re a group of brothers that love playing with each other and competing for each other,” said Howard about his coaching philosophy.
Howard has been involved with the game of basketball for as long as he can remember. He comes from a good basketball background His father, Maurice Howard, played college basketball for Maryland and was a second-round draft pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1976 NBA Draft, who would only play in 32 games in his rookie season for the Cavaliers and the New Orleans Jazz.
When asked about how long has been a part of his life, Howard replied, “I was born around the game. You know, my dad was an NBA player, a legend in Philadelphia. My family tells me that I could dribble the ball before I could walk. There were many moments when I was an adolescent and my mom would tell me, ‘The only thing you care about is basketball.’ And so I’ve been around the game my whole life. So I hope that all that time I was spending in basketball is now finally paying off as a head coach at La Salle.”
Howard, who is a native of Philadelphia, knows the basketball culture all too well. “I mean, the culture in Philly is, it’s a basketball town. We have a lot of big-time high school programs, we have, obviously the Philadelphia Big 5, we have the Philadelphia 76ers, we’ve got a lot of great professional players that have come from the city of Philadelphia, so Philly is very much a basketball town. It’s a town that takes pride in having a brand of good basketball and it’s a basketball community that I’m very fortunate to be a part of.”
Howard played his high school basketball at Monsignor Bonner High School, a Catholic high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia and then went on to play collegiately at Drexel University from 1998 to 2002 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2004. From there, he would coach at La Salle for four seasons, before going back to his alma ma0ter and coaching the Dragons for four seasons. After that he went on to Xavier University for a season, and then went on to coach at Villanova, which was a very successful program during his time there.
When asked about his time on the Wildcats’ bench and his tutelage from head coach Jay Wright, Howard replied, “I mean, the biggest thing I learned from Coach Wright is, you know, the importance of bringing it every day, you know what I’m saying? Like, the wins and the championships, once that’s over, it’s not helping you, you know what I mean, it’s over, and it just puts a bigger target on your back. So if you don’t prepare yourself every day to get your opponent’s best effort, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, so the biggest thing I learned from Coach Wright is attention to detail and the importance of bringing it every day.”
After five seasons on the Wildcats’ bench, the time came to make a move. On April 8th, he was hired as the new head coach at La Salle, replacing the departed Dr. John Giannini. When asked about what made him want to move on to take over the reins of the Explorers, he replied, “For me, it was a perfect fit. I didn’t have to move, I’m from Philadelphia, I was an assistant at La Salle, it’s a program that I believe has great potential, and for me it was, ‘Why not La Salle?’ You know? Last year, I was watching Loyola-Chicago in the national semifinals [Final Four]. As a guy from Philly, it take a great deal of pride in being a part of Philadelphia college basketball. I looked at opportunity of La Salle to come in and do some special things, so that’s why I chose La Salle.”
On being the head of the program after 15 years as an assistant coach, Howard added: “It feels unbelievable, man, I had a great run as an assistant coach. I learned from some of the greatest coaches in college basketball and now that I have the opportunity to run my own program, I’m really taking a chance to learn all of the things that I learned as an assistant and kind of put it into my own program. And I’m still developing my coaching philosophy and I’m learning myself on the fly, but you know, it’s an exciting experience for me right now.”
Now that he’s a head coach, he wants to continue the same patterns that brought him success at Villanova and bring it to La Salle. “If you look at our recruiting at Villanova, we didn’t necessarily build our roster with five-star recruits. We built our roster with guys who were smart basketball players, guys that were winners, guys that were tough & skilled, and I think those are some of the things that we’re prioritizing in recruiting right now. There’s always the low-hanging fruit to try to go after some of the more highly-rated guys, but I think the biggest thing that we want to do right now, is recruit guys that we know are going to fit our culture and fit my personality, so that’s really on my assistant coaches. My assistant coaches are now telling me, ‘I don’t know if this dude can play for you or not,’ or they’re telling me, ‘This dude you’ll love,’ So definitely using my experience at Villanova to value guys that have an element of toughness, basketball IQ, and guys who come from winning pedigree.”
Since his arrival, Howard has gotten great support from supporters and community of La Salle and was very excited to start anew. “It’s been unbelievable, man, the support that I’m getting from La Salle has been nothing short of, you know, a coming-home sort of situation for me, and the fact that I was an assistant there for four years, I’m coming back to an administration and faculty and staff and people that remembered me [from] when I was a young assistant coach. The president, our AD (athletic director), our board of directors, they’ve all been very supportive and every encouraging of me & my efforts to build a program.”
On coaching in the A-10, he added: “The A-10 is a great conference, man. The thing I respect about the A-10 is that you know, we have great coaches, man, and you have legendary Hall of Fame coaches in this league, you have young, talented, successful coaches in this league and it’s something that I’m very fortunate to tell a part of and I’m looking forward to getting started.”
As far as places in which he will be looking for players, he replied, “We’re going to be recruiting Philly aggressively, we’re going to definitely use our relationships in the East Coast corridor to recruit the DMV (DC, Maryland & Virginia), New York, New England area aggressively. If you look at our roster now, we have a pretty well, spread out roster. We’ve got guys from New York, New England, we’ve got guys from the DMV, we’ve got a great mix of talent and we’re looking forward to really, honestly, play in games so that now, our recruits have an idea of what La Salle Basketball is going to look like moving forward.”
On this season’s roster, they have four players from the local area in 6-foot-2 sophomore shooting guard David Beatty, 6-foot-1 redshirt junior point guard Traci Carter, 6-foot-6 freshman shooting guard Jack Clark and 6-foot-7 freshman forward Ed Croswell. Beatty and Carter were transfers from South Carolina & Marquette, respectively. When asked about bringing Beatty & Carter into the fold, Howard replied, “I’m excited for those guys, because I know that you have two guys that are from Philly that are really looking forward to putting La Salle Basketball back on the map. I think that’s something that those guys are embracing and it means a lot to those guys to be a part of a team that resurrects La Salle Basketball.”
When asked if it was a dream job for him, Howard said, “It was, it was, I mean, just to have the opportunity to be a head coach in my hometown, at a program where I started my coaching career. To be the head coach at La Salle was a dream opportunity for me, just like it was to be an assistant coach at Villanova. It’s one of those situations where, you know, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Not everybody gets an opportunity to be a head coach in their town in a conference like the Atlantic 10.”
So far things have long gone as planned, as they are now 0-4 to start the season, losing to two City 6 rivals in Temple and Drexel and also to Lafayette. Next week, they play Miami (FL) in the Wooden Legacy Tournament in Fullerton, California, where they hope to get their first win of the season. The two bright spots for the team right now are 6-foot senior guard Pookie Powell, who is averaging 20.5 points per game and 6-foot-6 junior shooting guard Isiah Deas, who is averaging 15.5 points per game.
The next big test for the Explorers will be on December 1st, when they play none other than Villanova, which is rated as the No. 8 team in the nation by the Associated Press, at the Palestra. When asked about that game, Howard replied, “It’s going to be humbling to have the opportunity after spending five years with him and analyzing him and learning from him. To have the opportunity to have my team compete against Villanova is going to be really cool, and it’s something I’m really looking forward to, just because, I’m looking at it as a big test for our team, just to see where we are, and to see how we can compete against a team that I know, is definitely bringing it 100% when we play them on December 1st.”
For now, the big mission for Ashley Howard and the La Salle Explorers is simple: get that first win. And then, whatever happens afterwards will happen. “I mean, the next step is to get out there and win basketball games, that’s the next step, and that’s something we’re looking forward to. I’ve been waiting for a long tine for this opportunity and the time is now and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”