Fifth-year point guard Ja'nya Love-Hill has a unique perspective for Georgia Southern women's basketball. As Coach Anita Howard's first recruit to the program back in 2019, she has been with the Eagles each and every year to experience the rapid progression that has taken place in Statesboro.
As she reflects on her final collegiate season with the Eagles, Ja'nya talked with us about the past, present and future of not only herself but of Georgia Southern women's basketball.
A native of Columbus, Ga., Ja'nya was recruited initially by Coach Howard to come play for her at hometown Columbus State. But in the Spring of 2019, two things happened. First, Ja'nya suffered a torn ACL during her senior season at Carver HS. Then, Coach Howard accepted the head coaching position at Georgia Southern.
"When I first heard that she was taking the job at Georgia Southern, I thought, 'oh Lord, what am i going to do," Ja'nya reflects. "The only reason I committed to Columbus State was because of Coach Howard. And I received that news at the same time of learning I had torn my ACL. So my world just came crashing down."
Coach Howard wanted Ja'nya to join her in Statesboro and immediately offered her a chance to become an Eagle despite the injury.
"She told me, 'I want you to come with me. I want to get you down to Southern. Get you on a visit, see if you like it.' I promise you, I didn't need to come on the visit. I told her that I'm already coming, I don't even need to see the campus. But I was so nervous. From that moment on, I knew i had to do my best and win for her. For her to bring me to a Division I school, it was heart touching. I didn't think that I was DI-worthy."
Normally, the recovery time for the type of injury Ja'nya suffered would have automatically kept her out for her freshman season in 2019-20. But she worked hard to rehab and had the opportunity to return to the court during the Spring portion of Coach Howard's first season in Statesboro. But the decision still remained — redshirt and preserve a year of eligibility, or get back onto the court, even for a limited time, to begin the all important adjustment process to college basketball?
"It was a big, big decision," Ja'nya says. "I talked about it with everybody to get opinions. I believe it was a good decision for me to touch the court in my freshman year. It got me into the groove of things, and got me to see how fast it was — it was a big adjustment from high school. And now, I feel like if I would have redshirted, I wouldn't have felt that until the following year. But because I did that as a freshman, I was able to start in my sophomore year. The adjustment wasn't that big of a shock to me."
The starting point guard for Coach Howard and the Eagles during the 2019-20 season was Amira Atwater, a 5-6 senior from Douglas County who finished her Eagle career as the all-time leader in assists with 420. Amira's presence helped Ja'nya adjust to what was soon to be her role as the Eagles' starting point guard.
"Seeing Amira — a small guard, fast, I look like her and she looks like me," Ja'nya said with a laugh. "But all those games watching her, she put me in a good area. She was a mentor for me. And she set me up to be where I am today."
And where Ja'nya is today is one of the more recognizable leaders for a program that has improved its win total every single year that Coach Howard has been at the helm of the Eagles. Inheriting a team that won just seven games overall and two Sun Belt games in 2018-19, Coach Howard and Ja'nya have built the Eagles into a championship contender as Georgia Southern won 20 games in 2022-23, 12 Sun Belt games and finished just one game out of the title last year. What has been the key to that kind of sustained success?
"The recruits that Coach Howard bring in," Ja'nya said. "Every year she tells us that she's bringing in somebody to replace us, but when she does that, that makes the returners go even harder. That just helps the program build and build. The returners that have stuck it out for all the years that they've been there, learning the program. It's just a constant process."
The future is bright not only for the Eagles, but for Ja'nya as well. She graduated with her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and criminology earlier this season, and she has ideas about lies ahead for her off — or possibly on — the court.
"I want to be a detective or an investigator for the GBI or the FBI," Ja'nya said. "But if that doesn't work out for me, I'm looking into coaching. Coach Howard's gotten me into that a little bit. She tells me that I'm a natural born leader and that I'd be a good coach one day."
Before that day comes, however, Ja'nya still has goals this season. One of them is to catch her former teammate — Amira Atwater — for the Georgia Southern all-time assist record. As of today, Ja'nya has 282 assists in her career, which ranks eighth all-time. Amira is first with 420, and if the Eagles and Ja'nya can push things offensively over the remaining games or make a deep postseason run, she'll have the opportunity to claim the record.
"When I saw her get the record, I thought to myself, 'that's nice'. But I want to be there one day," Ja'nya said. "I didn't realize how close I was until I had a conversation with Coach D [Deont'a McChester] last year. He said, 'I just want you to know, I want you to be Top 10 this year,' so that was my goal last year. This year, I'm chasing that number one spot, and I believe it's doable. My teammates have got my back, and they've gotten me this far."
There's also the team goal for 2023-24, which has the Eagles eager to make up that one game they were shy last year and come home with a Sun Belt title.
"I believe we can win a championship," Ja'nya says. "We can go as far as our returners can take us. And for me, I just gotta lead my team. Really, that's it. It's got to be player led. Coach Howard has given us the blueprint, now it's on us to do it. I'm not even focused on scoring, I'm just trying to get my teammates in the right position to succeed. I promise you, we'll be good. And this is the year we've got to do it since it's my last year."
In the midst of her final season on the court, what is Ja'nya going to miss most about Georgia Southern as a student-athlete?
"I'll miss my teammates and Coach Howard," Ja'nya said. "I'll miss the family environment, and all the fans. I feel the love from everyone. Love feels the love from everybody."