KU assistant Jerrance Howard overcomes fear of heights just in time for trip to NYC

Assistant coach Jerrance Howard waves a towel as he signals movement from a  player during Boot Camp in the practice gym on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 just after 6 a.m.

Assistant coach Jerrance Howard waves a towel as he signals movement from a player during Boot Camp in the practice gym on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 just after 6 a.m. by Nick Krug

New York — In addition to facing off against the likes of Marquette (6 p.m. Wednesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn), Louisville and Tennessee over the next few days, the Kansas men’s basketball team also will have a couple of down days in the land of skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty.

But don’t expect KU assistant Jerrance Howard to be first in line to climb to the tallest buildings the Big Apple has to offer.

See, Howard, now in his sixth season as an assistant to Bill Self at Kansas, has a serious fear of heights.

It’s been with him for as long as he can remember and, until recently, had kept him from even considering climbing to the top of even moderately tall buildings.

But then the Salute to Service night happened at Allen Fieldhouse, and, as the military members were setting up for their chance to rappel down from the top of the scoreboard to center court before the start of KU’s win over Louisiana, Howard found himself in position to conquer his fear.

“Me, coach Rob (Norm Roberts) and (Jeremy) Case are walking back from lunch at the DeBruce Center and we see them doing it and I was just playing, but I said, ‘I’m about to do it,’” Howard recalled to the Journal-World. “I’ve always wanted to go up in the catwalk and check that out, but I’m afraid of heights. And I chickened out. They strapped me in and I didn’t feel comfortable and I said, ‘I can’t do it.’”

That was all that Case needed to hear to take a couple of jabs at his good friend. Remember, Case this summer rappelled down the eight-story building in Downtown Lawrence for charity. So putting his money where his mouth was was not going to be a problem if it came to that.

“He knows I’m a little competitive,” Howard explained. “So he hit me with, ‘Hey, man, if you’re not going to do it, let me do it.’ That kind of got me and I was like, ‘I can’t let him just punk me.’ He knew what he was doing so I credit all of it to Jeremy Case. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. First, to overcome my fear of heights, but then, for it just to happen, it wasn’t planned or anything. That was the cool thing about it.”

Howard’s fear of heights surfaced when he was just a kid. When his friends and family members were running off to get in line for their favorite roller coasters at various amusement parks, Howard always had a different agenda.

“When we would go to Disney or wherever, I was the guy that always held everybody’s coats and jackets,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been like that forever.”

More recently, during Howard’s first season as an assistant coach at SMU in 2012, his old Illinois teammate and dear friend Derron Williams executed a move Case would have been proud of.

“Derron Williams tricked me,” Howard said. “There’s a place in Dallas he rented out for his brother of like these big-time roller coaster rides, and he was like, ‘Hey, fam, we’re going to go on this one. All it does is go straight up and come right back down.’ And it went straight up and then went around in circles. He has it on video, but he can’t release it.”

It wasn’t just Williams who drew Howard’s ire that day.

“I got mad at the guy running it because he started laughing when he strapped me in, and I told D-Will, ‘Oh, you tricked me.’ And the guy wouldn’t let me out,” Howard recalled. “I went from being angry to being scared just like that.”

So while there might be a trip to the top of the Empire State Building or a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the Jayhawks’ immediate future, don’t expect Howard to do any looking over the edge while there.