By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – Danetia Jefferson-Howard is preparing to bring some Western-style basketball to the South.
Jefferson-Howard, a native of Las Vegas, was recently named Effingham County High School's girls basketball coach, replacing interim coach Kyle Hurley.
Her first days on the ECHS court started last week with team conditioning. At the top of her list of needs is making a young group believe it can be competitive. The Rebels, with 12 last season’s players sophomores or freshmen, won only four games. They haven't finished a season above .500 since 2015-16.
Jefferson-Howard says that can change.
"We're hoping we can surprise the community with some good things," she said.
She isn't counting on luck, but will roll the dice on an up-tempo offense to negate a lack of height returning. Her basketball upbringing included watching the late Coach Jerry Tarkanian and his aggressive style of play at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
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Jefferson-Howard and her family moved across the country last summer to be closer to family. She landed a job teaching special education at Effingham County Middle School and from afar watched the high school varsity team play.
With eight years of coaching experience and several years of playing experience in high school and college, admittedly, she had "this is what I'd do if it was my team" thoughts spinning through her head.
"I studied their games from this last season and told (athletic director) Jake Darling what I saw and what I thought I could do," Jefferson-Howard said. "He put his trust in me and here we are today. Sometimes you have to shake up things to make a change. I'm hoping the girls grasp my concepts and my way of basketball."
She has an optimistic outlook on life – evident from authoring two children's books, The Me Song and The Best Kind. Both books encourage young children to accept others' differences and teach self-importance.
She said she started writing through her faith.
"I was just in church one day and God told me to start writing books," Jefferson-Howard said. "A lot of our kids lack self-confidence."
Turning ECHS into a winner could take similar faith. Jefferson-Howard will be the team's sixth coach in eight years.
But she has 16 girls committed to summer conditioning and expects a few more players to join from fall sports softball and volleyball.
Second-team all-region guard/forward Kyjana Jordan, a rising junior, will be a player to build around. Other girls are going to get better, Jefferson-Howard said.
"We have a good group of girls, very coachable, very respectful," Jefferson-Howard said. "I'm an outsider, but they've opened up and are allowing me to show them what I can help them do. They want to change (the losing narrative)."