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40-year basketball coach named to hall of fame

Hall of famer

Jimmy Howard receives his Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame jacket during his induction ceremony July 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The MBA chose Howard as its Air Force inductee this year for his 40 years of service to military sports. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Hall of famer

Jimmy Howard speaks to a crowd of well-wishers during his Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame induction ceremony July 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The MBA chose Howard as its Air Force inductee this year for his 40 years of service to military sports. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Hall of famer

A former player of Coach J, records Jimmy Howard’s Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame speech during his induction ceremony July 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The MBA chose Howard as its Air Force inductee this year for his 40 years of service to military sports. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Hall of famer

Jimmy Howard receives his Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame plaque during his induction ceremony July 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The MBA chose Howard as its Air Force inductee this year for his 40 years of service to military sports. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Hall of famer

Jimmy Howard succumbs to his emotions during his Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame induction ceremony July 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The MBA chose Howard as its Air Force inductee this year for his 40 years of service to military sports. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Hall of famer

Col. Tony Meeks, Air Force Research Lab Munitions Directorate commander, speaks to Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame inductee, Jimmy Howard, during a ceremony July 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The MBA chose Howard as its Air Force inductee this year for his 40 years of service to military sports. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Hall of famer

Mike Meyers, Military Basketball Association commissioner, speaks about Jimmy Howard during his hall of fame induction ceremony July 30 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The MBA chose Howard as its Air Force inductee this year for his 40 years of service to military sports. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

“I was addicted to sports at an early age and never looked back.”

From humble Chicago YMCA basketball beginnings to 40 years, two Air Force careers and countless hardcourt hours later, Jimmy Howard became a Military Basketball Association Hall of Fame inductee here July 30.  He is currently an Air Force Research Lab Munitions Directorate contractor.

Howard’s selection was for his years of service as an Air Force basketball coach, which began in 1979 at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, just three years after his initial enlistment.

“I’m a firm believer the lessons learned on the field of play can resonate throughout one’s life when applied with a mutual sense of purpose, commitment and dedication,” said Howard, currently an Air Force Research Lab Munitions Directorate civilian here.

Coaching an Air Force intramural or conference team is a voluntary position and gets done outside of normal military duties and hours. There’s no extra monetary compensation or bonuses for those who devote their time to these roles.

“You coach strictly for the love of the game.  It really is that simple,” said Howard, also a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

As Howard, or “Coach J” as he would eventually be known, moved through various jobs, such as supply specialist, honor guard and security forces augmentee during his active-duty career, the one constant was basketball.

“The game in its purest form is something beautiful to watch,” said the 63-year-old coach. “The artistry and creativity are nothing short of awesome, and when it all comes together from great effort and team play, it’s a thing of beauty.”

His time at Maxwell was all about learning and experience. He took that knowledge to Eglin in 1988 and basically took over the base’s basketball program for the next 25 years. Upon arrival, he became the coach for both the men’s and women’s conference teams.

During that time, his teams amassed more than 600 victories with a 75% winning record. His teams won the Air Force Materiel Command championship six times in eight years. He also won Command Coach of the Year honors twice during those years.

One of the highlights Howard said he fondly remembers was a particular defensive strategy he used during the 1996 AFMC tournament. He had his team play man-to-man defense on an opposing team’s star player. The rest of the team played a zone defense, meaning to cover a specific area of the court. The other team’s players could not increase their scoring output when their star player was taken out of the game by strong defense. The strategy worked and Coach J’s team clinched the championship that year.

All the winning, trophies and accolades have always been secondary, Howard said.

“The highlight of my coaching career was seeing the growth of the players from young men to accomplished veterans and successful men,” he said. “I still keep in contact with my players from over 40 years ago. We’re like family.”

That sentiment goes both ways. More than 20 former players attended his Eglin presentation and two more went to Colorado to represent Coach J at the main July 16 HOF ceremony for all inductees.  Howard was unable to attend due to illness.

“Everything you get from Jimmy carried you throughout your life,” said Anthoine Corpening, a former player who took the Eglin coaching reins from Howard in 2013. “A coach’s impact on his players is without measure. Jimmy’s impact is beyond measure.”

A commonality among all the players who spoke about Coach J at the events was his role as a father figure in their lives. They attributed their success in the military and beyond to his mentoring and leadership both on and off the court.

“All the different gentlemen here started our career as babies,” said former player Jerry Spivey, about the former players throughout the audience. “We were blessed to be friended, to be fathered, to be taught and to be loved by a man of this caliber.”

As the moment came for Howard to don the HOF jacket and make a speech, the always-talkative Coach J was silent with humbled emotion, but only for a bit.

“The opportunity to teach young men and women basketball and life lessons is one of the most rewarding things in my life,” said the father of two. “This award underscores and recognizes everything I did for all those years was appreciated. It’s a culmination of success on the court and mentoring young men and women for life issues ahead.”