Can you feel it, Explorers? That is the dawning of a new era of La Salle basketball. Campus is buzzing with an unmistakable electricity that began with the announcements of new head coaches for both the men’s and women’s teams. That excitement unfolded as Ashley Howard and Mountain MacGillivray were announced to lead the men’s and women’s basketball programs, respectively. Both coaches rehash the journeys that got them here and their plans for the future of La Salle basketball.
There are jobs for which some people are just born. For Ashley Howard, that job has always been basketball. “My mom says I was dribbling a basketball before I could walk,” Howard joked. “She would always tell me I cared too much about basketball. But, I guess all that time and energy is what helped me get to this point. I believe I was being groomed all along to get the position that I am in at this point. That started at birth.”
Howard’s road to get where he is today is a journey marked by hard work, determination, a positive outlook, and just a dash of serendipity.
Starting off as a point guard for the Drexel University Dragons, Howard led the team in assists. That’s where he says he learned a lot of what is now his coaching style. “On the court, I was always thinking about how to get everyone else in position,” he said. “I couldn’t think about myself and my stats and worrying about how I could get the most of it. I’m the guy who goes out there and keeps the team connected. It helped me to become a better coach.”
After graduating from Drexel, Howard landed a job as a camp counselor and then director for Hoop Group of Neptune, N.J. From there, fate unfolded. “Coincidentally, that same summer, a job opened up at La Salle and a friend approached me about joining the team. I got to be assistant to Dr. G (John Giannini) for his first four seasons here at La Salle, which was a great experience.”
From there, Howard’s career took off, from working under Bruiser Flint with the Drexel Dragons, to Cincinnati under the leadership of Chris Mack at Xavier University, and eventually being asked if he was interested in a job with the Villanova Wildcats.
The answer was a no-brainer. “For me, it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up,” he said. “To come home, be around my family, and to work for Coach (Jay) Wright.”
Howard says developing the team into champions was a gradual build, recruiting the right players and planting those seeds early on. During his five years there, the Wildcats won two NCAA Championships and broke the NCAA record for most wins in a four-year span. “My overall experience at Villanova was great,” Howard said, “and working for Coach Wright was an experience that has prepared me for my time at La Salle. I will always cherish and honor my time at Villanova, but it’s something I’m very much looking forward to creating here at La Salle – the culture, the vision, the history. I want to build that here.”
All of Howard’s experience paid off and now he stands proudly as the head coach of La Salle men’s basketball, which he calls the opportunity of a lifetime. “To be part of this program, in my hometown, to be back at La Salle, with passionate players and a great coaching staff in place,” Howard said, “they know what it takes to be successful. And I can’t wait to get started.”
“As a former assistant coach here, we know firsthand that Ashley Howard is an exceptional coaching talent who has a deep understanding of both La Salle’s basketball tradition and its important student-focused mission,” said Bill Bradshaw, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation. “This is a University that holds character, integrity, and commitment to that mission in the highest esteem, and our men’s basketball coach has the unique responsibility of reflecting that on and off the court. We have every confidence that Ash will do that – and more – in leading this program. His experience, especially in the past five years, reflects that Ash knows how to win. We are delighted to welcome him home to La Salle University.”
Howard’s success might have helped get him here, but he’s only focused on moving forward and building new. “I teach this team that records and awards are all a byproduct of doing the right thing every day,” he said. “We didn’t talk about winning at Villanova, we just focused on how to be the best we could be every day. And that’s what we’re going to do here. Hydration, good nutrition, and everything that we can do to be the best we can be on that court, that’s what we’re focused on.”
A phrase Howard learned in college has stuck with him through the years: The pressure isn’t on you to perform, the pressure is on you to prepare. “If you’re prepared, you’ll rely on your habits,” Howard said. “Being legitimate with your team and bringing your honest efforts every day—that’s what we’re going to do here at La Salle.”
Taking the team’s role in the Big 5 seriously is also part of Howard’s plan. “The Big 5 is unique because you have five completely different schools, each with historically great basketball programs,” he said. “Years ago, La Salle was at the top. But over the years, we’ve fallen to the middle of the pack. My goal is to get back to the top, but we want to do it the right way.”
The right way, he says, is all about having the right players. “Having the players and keeping the guys from this area here,” he said. “Only the players from the region truly know just how big the Big 5 really is. People from out of town don’t always understand how passionate the city is about these games, how intense the rivalries are and the brotherhood that we have amongst these programs – it’s something else that you can’t find in all of college basketball.”
If a great coach is only as good as his coaching style, then it’s safe to say the Explorers are in good hands. “It starts with being able to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself are you giving your all and living your life to help other people,” he said. “It’s about being part of something bigger in life. It’s not something that everyone always understands. It’s what I talk about with these guys… To lift each other up. You need your family and your church and your coach and community, you need these things to get through together and that’s what we’re trying to build here – a family and a community. We’re in this together and when you’re able to do that you’re able to build something successful beyond measure.”
You might expect a name like Mountain to accompany a larger-than-life personality. But in the case of Mountain MacGillivray, it’s so much more.
The father of seven has taken on the role of head coach of the La Salle women’s basketball team and couldn’t be more ready for the job.
“I see a team that is a team of hungry players,” MacGillivray said. “They’re a close-knit group of women who really care about each other and want to be good, and it’s a great foundation for a team. They’ve been really welcoming to me as a new coach and I’m looking forward to building something fresh and special with them.”
Before coming to La Salle, MacGillivray led the Quinnipiac Bobcats through seven consecutive 20-win seasons, qualified for the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five seasons, and earned a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2017.
A Philadelphia native and Temple alum, MacGillivray says he is excited to return to his hometown after coaching for so many years in Connecticut. He grew up in the Overbrook section of West Philly where he attended Archbishop Carroll High School. That’s where he discovered his passion for teaching basketball. “I started coaching at an early age and was able to have impact,” he said.
On leading the women’s basketball team to victory, MacGillivray says it all starts with attitude. “I envision a team that puts each other ahead of themselves, puts their teammates first and is willing to sacrifice and willing to give of themselves,” he said. “A team that is passionate and perseveres through adversity is ultimately one that grows into a champion.”
Director of Athletics Bill Bradshaw said in a statement, “We are excited to welcome Mountain back home to Philadelphia as he takes over leadership of our women’s basketball program. He’s been a key member of an exceptional program at Quinnipiac over the last few years and has been an integral part of their success both in recruiting and game preparation. His deep roots in Philadelphia high school basketball will help attract the top local talent from the area to La Salle.”
MacGillivray says he plans to inspire the team through his attitude and outlook. “A positive attitude and attitude of gratitude is infectious and rubs off on a lot of people,” he said. “I also think that when you can show people things that they can’t see and get them to believe in themselves, you can bring great things out of people.”
But if the players only remember one of his lessons when they step out onto the court, he said he hopes that “they remember don’t turn the ball over.”
Joking aside, he added, “I would say the biggest lesson I would like everybody to get from my coaching is that if you give back unselfishly, it’s amazing how much good comes back to you. And that really is the key to being successful. It’s giving your best, and knowing that what you do every day, and the way that you do it, determines whether you’re a winner or loser.”