Journey of Strength...through Baylor to the NBA and Back Again

July 5, 2023
Zac Howe Instructing DPT Student

Throughout his undergraduate education (in business) and his master’s degree program (in sport management), Zac Howe felt uncertain about his future career path.

Following the completion of his graduate program, Howe decided to take the route toward becoming a strength coach. His journey led to a number of internship opportunities—from the junior college where he had played basketball to Texas A&M University to the University of Maryland to the Washington Wizards and Mystics.

“At that point, my wife said, ‘No more internships!’” he laughs. “And then I got an internship in Oklahoma City with the Thunder. So then we said, ‘Okay that’s for sure the last one!’”

During his time with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, Howe was exposed to several high-level physical therapists working within the strength and conditioning arena. As he was considering furthering his education, this experience showed him the value of physical therapy within his profession and opened his mind to a potential degree track.

Howe had now plotted the next stop on his journey—physical therapy school.

Zac Howe

In March 2017, as he began to research physical therapy programs, a potential barrier came to light. Howe’s undergraduate and graduate degrees left him 24 hours of prerequisites short of being eligible for physical therapy school. However, at the same time, Howe was introduced to Dr. Casey Unverzagt, Clinical Associate Professor at Baylor University. Unverzagt shared with Howe about the brand-new physical therapy program launching that fall at Baylor. The program would be highly innovative—only two years in length with a hybrid format.

The idea of not having to move (again) along with the program timeframe was especially appealing to Howe.

“I thought it sounded amazing. I asked when the program would start, and Dr. U said, ‘Well, we need your application by October,’” Howe says. “So I had from March until October to get 24 hours of physics, chemistry, exercise science, anatomy—all of these classes that I needed.”

Thus began a whirlwind summer of classes. Howe enrolled in multiple institutions, taking classes online and in person, to meet the prerequisite requirements for physical therapy school. In the end, he got it done and was accepted into the very first cohort of Baylor University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

“We had a lot of confidence in the faculty and staff at that time, and they had a lot of confidence in the program,” Howe shares of joining a newly launched program. “They believed in the product. They believed in the education they were providing.”

As Howe reflects back on his experience in Baylor’s DPT program, he notes several highlights. One of the most impactful aspects of the program, he remarks, was the quality of the faculty. Because of the hybrid nature of the program, coupled with the strength of the Baylor brand, the University is able to recruit outstanding faculty from across the country. The program also prioritizes clinical experience, in addition to academic expertise, for faculty members.

“I think nearly all of our professors are still practicing,” Howe says. “This gives students that clinical, hands-on, ‘in the trenches’ kind of mentorship and guidance.”

He also emphasizes the Baylor DPT program’s perpetual quest for improvement and willingness to change and adapt in order to provide students with the very best in physical therapy education.

“Our curriculum [for the first cohort] actually changed from the time we started the program to whenever we finished. It was one of those things where the leadership group had the foresight to say, You know, I think this might work better this way,” Howe shares. “They are always looking for a way to make the program better, and they’re not afraid of change. They want to challenge themselves, challenge the profession, challenge the field.”

“They are always looking for a way to make the program better, and they’re not afraid of change. They want to challenge themselves, challenge the profession, challenge the field.”

Following his graduation from the Baylor DPT program in December 2019, Howe was accepted into a physical therapy sports residency in Sacramento. This program offered him the opportunity to significantly increase his clinical experience while receiving in-depth didactic instruction focused on physical therapy related to sports. Howe worked with Division I basketball, football, and soccer teams, a United Soccer League professional team, and in a clinic setting.

Toward the end of his residency, Howe was offered a position with the Sacramento Kings—a dream come true.

“I knew I wanted to end up in the NBA, and we really loved Sacramento,” he says. “It was such a natural fit, and I was lucky enough that they took a chance on me.”

Howe joined the Sacramento Kings as a Performance and Reconditioning Coach, working between the realms of strength and conditioning and physical therapy. Today, he serves as the Head Strength Coach, and while his responsibilities lean more toward strength and conditioning, Howe emphasizes the role his physical therapy education plays in his work.

“There’s so much that I use from physical therapy in the weight room, especially on a day-to-day basis when someone’s dealing with pain here or there. I’m much more confident in providing direction because of the knowledge I gained through physical therapy school,” he says. “Through the Baylor PT program and clinical practice, I gained the confidence to take my job to the next level. It makes me a better practitioner.”

While Howe’s path has led him to an impressive role with a professional basketball organization, he still travels the road back to Waco, regularly serving as an adjunct instructor for the Baylor DPT immersion labs.

“Honestly, it wasn’t much of a decision,” he says of agreeing to return to the program as an adjunct. “Dr. U sent me an email about it, and I said, ‘Tell me when and where, and I’ll be there!’”

In addition to providing instruction for courses like Physical Therapy Interventions, Howe also shares about his journey with the current DPT students, giving an insider’s look into how the Baylor program has developed over the years and offering advice based on his own career growth and experiences.

Throughout his journey, Zac Howe has paved his own way—from a driven but undecided student to an NBA coach and shaper of future physical therapists. Compelled by a strong work ethic and a willingness to take a leap of faith, Howe has become an exceptional professional and is a credit to the field of physical therapy and to the Baylor DPT program.

Learn more about the Baylor Doctor of Physical Therapy program at