Learn more about head varsity basketball coach Janna Eichelberger.
Sibling rivalry can be a compelling incentive. For Janna Eichelberger, the desire to beat her older brother in basketball provided just enough motivation to excel in the sport.
“That’s really why I started investing in basketball,” says the first-year GPS basketball coach, who grew up as the middle child between two brothers. Her tenacious and competitive spirit transformed her into a “total gym rat,” practicing and training every spare moment. “Anything it took to beat him,” she adds.
Eichelberger didn’t begin playing until age 11 but made the varsity high school team by eighth grade.
She never did beat her older brother in a game of one-on-one, but she attained another goal. “Playing basketball at the collegiate level was always the dream,” Eichelberger says. “Always.”
The Columbia, South Carolina, native signed with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and began her collegiate basketball career in 2008. During her time with the Jaguars, she earned a captain position as both a junior and a senior and was named to Summit League all-academic honors all four years.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and then a graduate assistant position with Tennessee State University’s women’s basketball program, where she worked under TSU Athletic Director and GPS alumna Teresa Lawrence Phillips ’76. Placed in charge of skill development for the team, she found a passion for training young female players in the Nashville area, which also led her to coaching local little league basketball teams.
After earning her master’s degree in Sport and Fitness Administration/Management, in 2014 Eichelberger accepted a position with the TSU men’s basketball program as Director of Basketball Operations—one of only seven women on a NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaching staff.
“This position at Tennessee State was a great experience; I worked for and with some awesome men who were great coaches and great people,” Eichelberger says. “Therefore, being the only female on staff and in the office didn’t feel like a major factor because I was there to do a job and so were they.”
As the director of operations, Eichelberger managed the behind-the-scenes logistics of the sport, such as budget, travel plans, and databases. She also took part in training sessions for the team’s players. “I learned so much about what goes into a program as well as a number of coaching strategies during this time,” she adds.
Two of Eichelberger’s favorite coaches to model include University of Oklahoma Sherri Coale and University of Texas Shaka Smart because she considers them to be great people on top of being great coaches. “Their players talk highly of them; if a player says they trust you, not just as a coach but also as a person, that says a lot about you,” she says.
Now more than halfway through her first year with the Bruisers, Eichelberger is instilling her own values into the student-athletes of GPS.
As head varsity basketball coach she finds the value of a strong work ethic to come very natural to her GPS athletes and students. “Everyone of my kids—PE and basketball—are coachable,” Eichelberger says. “Whatever I say, they are going to do it to the best of their ability because they want to learn, which is a great thing.”
While she does miss the college basketball world at times, Eichelberger says, “Nothing caps being able to inspire young women in pursuing their basketball goals.”