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Finding strength through adversity

USF senior guard Chris Howard has seen many ups and downs for the men’s basketball team during his career. He’s also seen ups and downs in his life off the court.

There has been joy in Howard’s life, as he became a father six years ago, but there have been hardships as well, as he dealt with the death of his father and suffered serious knee injuries that set his career back.

In November 2005, Howard tore his left ACL in practice a week before his first college game. After seven months of rehab, Howard was cleared to play — only to tear the same ACL, which forced him to miss the first 16 games of the 2006-07 season.

“It was tough, but I’m a firm believer that God puts situations in front of you that you can handle,” Howard said. “I don’t think too many people thought I would still be in the Big East, I’d still be starting, I’d still be able to run a team — I’d still be able to jump.”

Howard rebounded and worked his way into USF’s starting guard spot, where he’s having the best statistical season of his career averaging 10 points and four assists per game. He ranks fifth among USF’s all-time assists leaders.

“Chris is playing some of his best basketball (this year),” said USF coach Stan Heath. “When you start talking about guys like (former players) Bryan Swift, Tommy Tonelli and Chucky Atkins … that’s elite company. I think Chris is responsible for a lot of the offensive things that happen to us. He calls a lot of things and communicates real well.”

Howard said this season has been the most enjoyable one he’s had.

“I just bounced back (from the ACL injuries) and tried to prove as many people wrong as I could,” Howard said. “Not that it really matters, but at the same time I got back to the player I knew I could be.”

Bouncing back from his injuries was tough — but not as hard as what he endured once he returned to the court. In spring 2007, his father, Edward, died unexpectedly from heart failure. 

While at college, Howard said he’s lived through some of the toughest times of his life. But there’s someone he can always turn to and realize that with the low points, there’s also inspiration that every second of his life is worth living — his daughter.

Aaliyah, Howard’s 6-year-old daughter, lives in Washington D.C. with his mom, Sebrina. Howard said being a father is motivation to do well on the court. He said it’s tough juggling the duties of college basketball and being a father, but the rewards are fulfilling nonetheless.

“She has a strong mind, telling me she misses me and that she wishes I was home and can’t wait to see me at the next game,” he said. “There’s a lot of mental toughness I have to have, but at the same time I always remember that what I’m doing is to better her life.”

Howard said he doesn’t have to convince Aaliyah why he’s gone for extended periods of time. All he has to do is let her know that she’s what’s most important to him, while basketball is just a bonus.

“With her aging, she understands that,” Howard said. “Maybe when she was 2 or 3 (years old), she may not have understood why daddy wasn’t home. As she gets older, she understands that this is going to be something that daddy wants to do with his life and it betters her.”

Howard’s next basketball task is tonight, as the Bulls host No. 10 West Virginia at 7 in the Sun Dome.

USF has lost three straight, and Howard said his main focus is keeping the team united through adversity, using personal experience to help in any way he can.

“Just becoming one — that was the whole thing this year (for the team),” he said. “There’s been a lot of adversity this year with guys like (transfer) Jordan Dumars leaving, (sophomore forward) Augustus (Gilchrist’s) ankle problem, (center) Alex Rivas not playing.

“There’s been a lot of adversity, and at times (in previous years), I felt like we haven’t handled it well. This year’s team kept a mindset that it’s the next man up.”