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Friday, February 4, 2011

Jessica Howard- Dedicated & Loyal

A couple years ago, my wife commented, “Is Sara Wood back playing?” When Sara was in high school, I was always getting a phone call asking me if I would open the gym for Sara and Ami Pendry to go shoot. It didn’t matter what time of the year or what time of the day- they wanted to get into the gym. The reason my wife asked the question was that it was Jessica Howard wanting to get into the gym to shoot on The Gun.  Over the last three years, Jessica has been in the gym more than any player I have coached, more than even Sara & Ami. Each of the last two summers, she has made over 10,000 threes each summer. Not shot, but made 10,000 threes. This past fall, I had to ask her not to shoot for awhile because she was developing tendonitis in her elbow.  She agreed for about two days. Sara Wood would be very proud of Jessica.

When we went to running the System, there were several concerns that I had. One concern was how Jessica would react. She had started and played about 28 minutes per game as a sophomore. In going to the System, she was going to play a lot less. In fact, some games she has only played 17-18 minutes. She had no hesitation; she was supportive of our move. I don’t think she ever thought about how it would impact her, she just knew that as a team we needed a change. The irony is that while playing 10 minutes less per game, she has gotten about 7 shots more per game. But when we went to the System, the only thing we knew for sure was she was going to play less minutes.

Another concern would be how players would react to having one player who was going to be taking a lot of threes. It would be very easy for teammates to be resentful and jealous. Jessica was destined to get lots of publicity for making and shooting threes. Coach Arseneault talked about how much easier it would be to have a player in that role who has a personality the other players find to be humble. Jessica Howard has fit that role and had that personality.

Jessica’s approach and personality reminds me so much of Amanda Gunther. By the end of her senior year Amanda was the most dominant offensive players we have ever had. It did not matter if the opponents played man or zone; we figured out ways to get Amanda the ball every single possession. We rode her offensive performance all the way to the State Tourney.  Amanda was unassuming and humble; as a result the team was behind her completely. Jessica has the same approach that Amanda had. Amanda & Jessica both are stars but don’t act like a stars. Amanda would be proud of Jessica.

You were in Coach Rux' fifth grade class. What was the best part of fifth grade? Was Coach Rux a strict discipline guy?     

The best part of being in Coach Rux’s 5th grade class was definitely having indoor recess and playing board games in the back of the room with friends ( I know you’re surprised I had friends) and basketball at recess.  The best day of basketball was when Coach Rux and I were on the same team- we dominated.  Coach Rux was always pretty laid back during class and always had a joke to tell, it was very fun.  However, one day he did put my name on the board and gave me a check…

I know you were very discouraged and thought about quitting basketball after Allen beat you in the Silas FT contest. Wasn't he like 5 years old and you were 13? Do you remember the details? 

Will you ever let this go???  I was in 5th grade so I wasn’t 13!  The only reason he won was because he cheated!  He got to shoot right in front of the basket and I had to shoot at the actual FT line… and he was still a baby so I didn’t want to make him cry.  This year when we played at Maine South we had a FT contest and I BEAT HIM!  He will try to deny this, but it is true. Megan Young is my witness.

In junior high I think you were a post player. When did that change? When did you begin to think you needed to play outside and become a shooter?  

From 4th to 8th grade I played a post and Jamie played point guard, but midway through 8th grade year she became a post and I became a guard.  I really liked playing post because I was so much taller than everyone else, but I stopped growing so it was for the best that I became a guard I guess. 

You played little league on Coach Knosher's team. How many girls were on your team? What was good and bad playing little league with mainly boys? 

Marissa Vinson and I were the only two girls on the team.  The good thing about playing with the boys was that Harley was our coach since Chad played. I wasn’t very good at baseball then and Harley was always so excited and made me want to get better.  I will never forget when I caught my first fly ball in a game.  Harley started jumping up and down and gave me a Snickers ha-ha.  He is such a great coach!  I don’t remember there ever being bad times playing with the boys because they were nice back then.

When you started camp in the summer after 8th grade, did you think you would end up playing on the varsity as a freshman? Do you remember when you realized you were going to be on the varsity? Were you scared? 

At the start of camp I wasn’t sure if I’d be on varsity or not, but I hoped I would.  Midway through the summer I knew that if I worked hard I could play up.  When I got the letter that I would try out with the varsity I was so excited and almost cried, but I was in science class so I had to keep it together ha-ha.  The first game I was really scared but after awhile I got used to it.

How was it playing on the varsity as a freshman? 

Playing on the varsity as a freshman was somewhat nerve wrecking but the fans and games were so amazing. 

You were shy and quiet when you were a freshman and sophomore. Now you are very comfortable giving me lip. Explain how scared you were and what has happened to feel at ease? 

I wasn’t really scared, I just wasn’t as close to everyone as I am now and I’m a little shy sometimes.  It also seems that you tell more jokes now (well you try to tell jokes) and make fun of me a lot- I mean a lot! So, I’m not afraid to make fun of you or joke around. 

What have you learned about yourself in basketball? 

I’ve learned that if you work hard good things will happen. 

What role did your dad have in helping you develop as a basketball player? 

My dad has supported me from the beginning with basketball and has always stressed that working hard is very important.  I’ve always tried to make him proud, so I always try to work hard at everything.  We always played in the drive and to this day I still have not beaten him in a game of horse.  He is a very dedicated dad and I love him.  But if you ask him, my mom taught me how to play because she is so athletic.. ha-ha.  (Sorry mom!)

Coach Hart is your relation. Is he one of the worst players to ever come out of Williamsfield? Do you deny publicly you are related to him? 

Yes, he is my relation but by marriage (which is a good thing so I couldn’t inherit his athletic ability- not good).  I’m pretty sure if we looked up the stats from when he played he would be the worst to come out of Williamsfield.  I’m also sure that if you called Bob Anderson, the coach, he would agree with you that Hart is the worst player he ever coached, and Hart is his step-son.  It is sometimes hard for me to admit we are related, but he enjoys telling people I’m his cousin.  :)

You did not do another sport, so you worked in the gym year round and in the weight room year round. You were incredible in terms of day after day showing up and shooting threes. Was it hard to come and do it? Were there days you didn't want to come? What motivated you to keep doing it day after day? 

Having you and Nug (and now Coach Allison) as coaches, it was always so easy to be able to shoot or do whatever in the gym because you two were always supporting it, so thank you!  There were some days when I was tired and didn’t want to wake up early, but once I got there I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  I just knew that there was always someone else from another school working hard too and that motivated me to get in the weight room.  As for shooting- I just like to shoot.

You invested a lot in basketball. Why? Has basketball been more fun or more work? 

Well, when you love something you like to dedicate your time to it- so that’s what I did.  Basketball at Galesburg has always been fun and has never felt like something I “had” to do, I’ve just always wanted to work at it.    

What has been the most enjoyable part of basketball? 

This year has definitely been the best year of basketball I’ve ever had.  We have a great record, which is fun, but we are so much closer than we have been the last few years.  We really care about each other and always have fun, like a family- including all of the coaches.  It is so great being able to play with teammates who work so hard every day and want to work hard. 

How many times have you been asked if you were Coach G's sister?

Ha-ha.  I’ve been asked this question a lot, but mainly from teachers.  I’ve been called Jaque a few times in class too.  Nug should definitely take that as a compliment :)

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