Natasha Howard is getting the opportunity to learn about more than just basketball at Florida State University.
Howard, a 2010 Waite graduate and a 6-foot-3 senior forward on the Seminoles’ women’s basketball team, had an opportunity of a lifetime Aug. 7-11. The FSU basketball squad traveled to Italy and Africa as part of a foreign tour experience presented by Nike.
Howard, 21, did not make the trip to Italy, but she traveled to Dakar, Senegal, from Aug. 7-11. The team went on safari at Bandia Animal Park and put on a basketball clinic for children and teenagers in Dakar. The team also visited an orphanage.
|Florida State basketball player Natasha Howard (Waite)
hugs a child while visiting an orphanage in Dakar, Senegal.
(Photo courtesy of Zachary Stipe/FSU SID)
“It was pretty cool, going out there and seeing wild animals in the open,” Howard said. “In Toledo, you go to the zoo and see animals in cages. I saw giraffes, zebras, monkeys, hippos (on safari). I fed a monkey some bread. It was about an hour from the hotel to the safari. I was kind of nervous. I thought the animals might attack the truck, but we had fun.”
Howard said there were 15-20 infants at the orphanage during the team’s visit there.
“The (adults) were telling us how some mothers there neglect their kids, and the people at the orphanage keep them until the father is ready to keep them at 1 year old,” Howard said. “It was good to hear the background of what they do there. The kids just wanted to be held and didn’t want to get put down. I wanted to cry. The little kids were reaching out to us to hold them and play with them.”
She added that the visit helped her put things in perspective.
“It really opened my eyes a lot, how much we have here in the United States,” Howard said. “I really appreciate what we have. I also appreciate giving back to countries that aren’t as fortunate as we are. I just want to give back. I held the little kids and played with them.”
Zach Stipe, an assistant sports information director at FSU, said Howard was impressive during the visit to the orphanage.
“Tash was great with the little kids,” he said. “She loves kids.”
The Seminoles also played two exhibition games against Senegal’s women’s national team, which features nearly all professional players. The home country won both contests.
“They were pro athletes,” Howard said. “It was kind of tough playing against them, but it was a good experience for our team. We had fun, no matter what. I was like, wow, they’re a really good team!”
Stipe said the FSU athletes also held a basketball clinic at a local stadium, where more than 50 local boys and girls from elementary age to high school participated. The Seminoles stopped at villages and gave basketballs and bracelets to the children, and they visited Goree Island, where slaves were imprisoned hundreds of years ago before being shipped to the U.S., France or England.
Florida State coach Sue Semrau said she was thankful to Nike for sponsoring the trip overseas.
“These foreign tour trips are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for our student-athletes,” she said, “and I’m so glad that we can provide this experience at FSU. We have a lot of new pieces on our team for the upcoming season, and this will allow us to bond as players and as a staff while playing games, giving back and seeing some incredible sites.”
Howard, who is majoring in social science, is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s active leader in career double-doubles (26), and she has career averages of 11.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks in 96 career games (94 starts). She is one of just 10 FSU women in the 1,000-point, 700-rebound club.
“I’ve had a lot of fun at FSU,” said Howard, a first-team All-ACC pick last year. “It has gone by fast. I’ve progressed a lot; my skill level has gone up. I’m still working on weaknesses that I’m really not good at. I’m in the gym every day working on the things I need to work on, so I can make myself better and help my team out when they need me.”
The Seminoles, who won 23 games last season, are looking to ride that momentum to even bigger things this year, Howard said.
“I’m looking forward to another good season in my last year,” she said. “We’re looking for an ACC championship before I leave. We were pretty close last year. I want to be the ACC champs and go to the NCAA tournament, then see if we can win it all. We have four good freshmen that came in to help us out.”
Howard said she hasn’t yet put much thought into what her plans are after college.
“I hope I get drafted into the WNBA,” she said. “After my basketball career is over, I’d like to be a counselor or a social worker.”