Shortly after he was announced Thursday as the new head basketball coach at the University of North Texas at Dallas, Josh Howard couldn’t hide his excitement.
“It’s a blessing,” Howard told Mavs.com. “I am excited. This is just about like how I was when I got drafted to the Dallas Mavericks.”
Howard was one of the cornerstones in the frontcourt for the Dallas Mavericks while playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki from 2003-10. He was such a gritty player and had such a unique skill-set that he wound up making the 2007 NBA All-Star team.
Now, the former 11-year NBA veteran is taking over a program that will be playing its inaugural season next fall. And that’s just fine for Howard, who the Mavs drafted in the first-round pick of the same NBA Draft that produced LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Howard spent the last four years as the head coach at Piedmont International University in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., where he compiled at 49-49 record. While coaching in his hometown had its obvious advantages, Howard jumped at the opportunity to return to North Texas, mainly because he had always maintained an offseason home in Dallas.
“After I left the Mavericks, I still made Dallas my home,” Howard said. “I just had to leave and go play or go coach elsewhere. Whenever the season would end I would always come back here and enjoy the life of Dallas, Texas.”
The Mavs traded Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 13, 2010 for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. Howard also had brief stints with the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, and also with the Austin Toros of the G League before finishing his career n 2014.
At UNT-Dallas, Howard is joining a school that will be playing in the NAIA in the Sooner Athletic Conference. And he wants to make one thing perfectly clear.
“I’m coming back to Dallas and starting a program from the ground up, setting our identity, and also giving kids an opportunity in the local area to use my platform and UNT-D’s platform to get a great education,” Howard said. “I hashtag some of my Instagram posts with: ‘Leaders, not followers.
“We’re here to promote greatness, and that’s the No. 1 thing I’m going to do.”
The UNT-Dallas staff also hopes Howard will be able to take the Trailblazers to greater heights.
“Josh’s basketball career speaks for itself as a former star player for the Mavericks and a member of the Wake Forest and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Halls of Fame,” UNT Dallas athletic director Jack Allday said in a press release. “Off the court, the effort he puts into the Josh Howard Foundation shows how much he cares about our young people. Our student-athletes, student body, fans and the entire Trailblazers family are going to love Josh Howard.”
Howard wants UNT-Dallas to be in a heated battle with SMU and TCU and other universities in the area in signing some of the local talent.
“Any transfers that are from this area that want to come back home, that’s first and foremost,” Howard said. “And then, of course I’ll open that door to anybody from out of state.
“But I want to take care of home base first to establish my identity for our guys. And what I want most is to definitely put UNT-Dallas on the map.”
With everyone exercising social distancing these days because of the coronavirus pandemic, Howard admits there are some unique challenges that come with recruiting that could hinder his attempt to put UNT-Dallas basketball on the map. But he hopes his name recognition will give him an edge.
“Not being able to go and meet with kids or their parents or their coaches, it’s hard,” Howard said. “You go back to my celebrity and me being able to use it, I think that’s going to help me out a lot with some of these parents and their kids with them trusting and believing in me and knowing that I don’t want anything but greatness for their kids.
“I know it’s going to be a little awkward situation compared to my previous years of going out and recruiting, but I think I’ll be able to pick it right up. I’ve already had to do a couple of Zoom meetings in the last two weeks, so I’m kind of used to it already. I’ve done Skype interviews and things of that nature before, too. It’s nothing new for me.”
Being a head coach the past four years also has prepared Howard for his job with UNT-Dallas.
“I understood the generation that was coming up,” he said. “I had to understand them off the court before I could get to do what I had to do on the court. It’s a little bit more to it than just my name recognition. It’s really this generation and wanting them to be great, so I’m so excited about it. I can’t stop what God has to offer.”
Josh Howard on getting hired today as the head coach of UNT-Dallas: "It's a blessing. I am excited. This is just about like I was when I got drafted to the Dallas Mavericks. This is a blessing." Howard played for the @dallasmavs from 2003-10 and was an All-Star in 2007. @mcuban
— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) April 17, 2020