One of the best guards ever to don an Ashland High girls basketball uniform crept into Mountain Avenue gym like a cat burglar Tuesday.

One of the best guards ever to don an Ashland High girls basketball uniform crept into Mountain Avenue Gym like a cat burglar Tuesday.

Hanna Howard, formerly Hanna Seltzer, found a door that was left unlocked and slipped through. The building was empty, so she had plenty of time to check out the newly-renovated gym, walk the court she once dribbled across, reminisce.

Nine years after she made her last shot as a Grizzly, Howard is still gliding across basketball courts. Only now, her road trips require airplanes and rental cars, her shoes don't squeak as much and a typical game plan revolves around making pitches, not baskets.

Howard, who graduated from AHS in 2001, has been hired as an assistant women's basketball coach at Utah State, a NCAA Division I program that competes in the Western Athletic Conference. As the lead assistant under Aggies' head coach Raegan Pebley, Howard will hit the recruiting trail hard in the coming weeks. After the Fourth of July, which she will celebrate with her parents in Ashland, she'll shove off for a 17-day recruiting trip, take a few days off to pack up and move her things from San Diego, Calif., to Logan, Utah, then head on out again for another extended business of basketball roadie.

It's a high-pressure, hectic life for the former Southern Oregon Conference first-team all-star, but that's fine by Howard, who has aspirations to be a head coach at a big-time college and believes her latest move represents a major step in that direction.

"I would love to (coach) the University of Portland, where I played, but if that opportunity doesn't come about just being in the position to run my own team, that's my dream and that's what I've always wanted," she said.

That dream was fostered early on in Ashland, where Howard learned the fundamentals of the game from longtime youth basketball coach Steve Humann. Howard's hard work during her middle school years led to a fantastic four-year run with the Grizzlies, during which she played under former Ashland coach Heather Roberts.

Howard credits both Humann and Roberts as major influences, and said that Humann's sharp eye for leadership qualities pushed Howard to become both a player and a student of the game.

"I grew up a tomboy with sports but found a passion for basketball early and (Humann) recognized that in me," Howard said. "He saw that I had something just a little bit more than some of the other star players that have come through his ranks, so he challenged me and he helped me see the game. He let me be a leader out on the floor when I played for him, and during my high school career he was still there. We talked about the things that I saw and the things that he saw. I will always credit him with my development as a future coach."

After helping Ashland finish third in the SOC as a senior, averaging 14.6 points per game in league play, Howard attended the University of Portland on a basketball scholarship. There, she was a four-year letterwinner and averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 assists before suffering a season-ending knee injury early in her senior year.

Howard didn't go directly into coaching after graduating from UP in 2005, choosing instead to take a job at a wireless retail store in Portland. The urge to coach couldn't be satisfied in front of a desk, however, and two years later she was hired as the top assistant for the UC San Diego women's basketball team.

In three years at US San Diego, Howard learned the ins and outs of the profession from all angles, from coaching to recruiting, scheduling to scouting, video operations to player development.

When the Utah State job opened up, Howard was ready to take the next step and desperately wanted to do so. Her first day on the job was June 14.

"It's still pretty new," she said, "but I feel like the last month has been the longest month ever, just wondering, waiting and hoping."

And now, adapting.

In her first season at Utah State, Howard will experience a much different climate than the one she and her husband, Marques, have become accustomed to in southern California.

Already, she has plans for that, too.

"Going from the beaches to the mountains," Howard said, laughing. "We promised ourselves when we moved (to San Diego) that we'd learn how to surf. Now, we're selling our surf boards and buying skis."