Henrickson Wants the Jayhawks to Fly Again

May 22, 2007

Editors Note: The following story was provided to kuathletics.com from www.fullcourt.com. Full Court Press is an on-line magazine devoted to women’s basketball.

By Anthony Lawrence Caruso, III
Special to kuathletics.com

Bonnie Henrickson, the Willmar, Minnesota native, played for St. Could State University, where she helped led the team to three Northern Sun Conference champs and advanced to three NCAA Division-II quarterfinals. SCSU has a 97-25 under Henrickson’s tutelage, including a 31-4 mark in her sophomore year.

She still ranks among the school leaders in points with 1,731, rebounds 995, free throws 507 and free throw percentage .790. She also was named to the all-conference team three times. Henrickson served as team captain her junior and senior years.

She started her coaching career as a student assistant coach at her alma mater before traveling all over the country. She spent time as a graduate assistant coach at Western Illinois, assistant coach and associate head coach at Virginia Teach, and was an assistant coach at Iowa. When she was an assistant coach at Tech, she was credited with recruiting some of the Hokies’ biggest stars, including Lisa Witherspoon, Michelle Houseright, Katie O’Connor, Christi Osborne, and Jenny Root.

She got her first head coaching position at Virginia Tech in 1997. She spent 8-years at Tech as an head coach and took the team to 5 NCAA March Madness tournament appearances. She moved to Lawrence, Kansas for the 2004-05 season, where Kansas posted its most wins (12) and conference wins (5) in four seasons, and placed eighth in the Big 12 Conference — the highest Jayhawk finish in five years.

In July 2000, she was the head coach of the women’s USA Basketball team that traveled to Taiwan for the R. William Jones Cup competition. This appointment marked her second stint with a USA Basketball team; she also served as an assistant coach on the Team USA squad that won the silver medal at the 1999 World University Games.

Full Court Press: The Big 12 drew more than a million fans last year. Why do you think the conference is so successful in attracting fans?

Bonnie Henrickson: “I think we have fantastic administrators, who support and make a commitment financially to their programs and in their marketing promotion, and helped selecting coaches to build quality programs and in a lot of great college towns.”

FCP: There’s a perception that there’s an East Coast bias in women’s basketball. Do you think that’s true?

BH: “Well, I was on the East Coast for 14-years. And in the Mid-West, our coverage is pretty good. We get a lot of television coverage. I think you hear that more from people on the West Coast. Some of that may be time zone related. But certainly there is more coverage on the East. I don’t have any substantial to prove that certainly.”

FCP: Do you think that teams in the Big 12 and Pac-10 Conference gets less respect than those in the ACC and Big East Conferences?

BH: “I don’t think so. I think they’re quality teams in both conferences. You have Hall-of-Fame coaches in our league and in that league. I don’t think this league is disrespected at all. We certainly have a better feel for our league than the Pac-10 (Conference). I don’t think we’re disrespected. “

FCP: When you came to Kansas, you were replacing a legend in Marian Washington, who’d been there for more than 20-years. Did that make it harder for you at all?

BH: “I think the opportunity to grow on her past success has been positive than in other experiences in women’s basketball. The most important thing at the end of the day is that I am who I am and make sure I have the respect that I have and our staff has in what she has accomplished at Kansas. That’s the most important thing for me to do and grow the program and run the program in a first-class manner that would make her proud. That’s the most important thing for me to do.”

FCP: Recruiting is considered by some to be the most important component of success in women’s basketball. Do you agree with that?

BH: “Yes, Geno (Auriemma) has the best line of that. It’s there’s two kinds of coaches – one that coaches great talent and former coaches. Absolutely.”

FCP: How important is it for a coach to recruit successfully in his or her own area?

BH: “What is most important about coaching in our area? The visibility of you and your staff and your players. For us, we have a great television package, regionally and nationally. We have our own radio show and there’s a lot of great High School coaches and AAU coaches in this area. There isn’t a day going by that I don’t speak with coaches in Kansas and the Missouri side of Kansas City. Whether it’s High School coaches or AAU coaches, we run clinics and camps/ WE work hard to cultivate relationships and trust people in this area.”

FCP: Can a program be consistently successful by relying on talent from other states or regions?

BH: “Yes, Absolutely. Connecticut has done that. There’s many programs in the top tier of teams that require players from different areas. Absolutely, yes, we will do that here. We’ll recruit local kids in Kansas, but we’re going to recruit locally and nationally.”

FCP: There have been a tremendous number of coaching changes this year. Do you think it’s just one of those things, or does it reflect more pressure being put on coaches to win games and attract more fans?

BH: “I believe it’s two-fold. I’ve said this; my staff said this 5-years ago if you look ahead 5-years from right about now, there will be some pretty big-time jobs open up because of people retiring and the longevity that they’ve served already in their prospective programs. And you can say the same thing now, look ahead, there’s the potential for some turnover in some high profile programs because of the same thing. But the second about that is, we haven’t had a really big turnover in the really last 4-years. And most people sign 5-year contracts now. I do think it’s directly to the commitment in administrators made, the financial commitment in salaries, the commitment in a budget and the rise in expectations is because of that financial support.”

FCP: Some people say that it’s unfair that coaches can switch schools withno penalty, while players have to sit out a year if they switch schools. Do you think players should be allowed to transfer, or be freed from their letters of intent, if the coach leaves?

BH: “Anymore now when coaches leave, the incoming freshman, I would say 9 times out of 10, again I don’t have factual information, most places would grant the players their release. And that’s the right thing to do. But when it comes to the players that’s been in the program for multiple years, I wouldn’t say I’m strong-handed to say that, that’s the right thing to do. But for players, who have never even been on campus, that signed then the coaches left, I think it’s fair to release those players. “

FCP: There’s a feeling that X’s and O’s aren’t that important in college coaching anymore, or at least that a head coach can hire some one who’s good at the technical aspects of the offense and defense. How important are the X’s and O’s to winning games at the Division-I level?

BH: “As far as the ability to teach, your ability to teach is important. Coaches have to be great teachers. You have to be great motivators. I think it is important. You have to have players, but you have to have the players play in a system that produces success for them in their style and successful in your league and nationally. It is obviously enough to have talent, but you have to be able to teach fundamentals and that bring opportunities for your team to be successful, offensively and defensively. At this level, even with elite athletes, there’s so many elite athletes now, you have to be able to advance your team from a strategy standpoint. ”

FCP: The Big 12 is one of the strongest conferences in the country, top to bottom. Why do you think that is?

BH: “Again. I think it goes back to the commitment the administrators have made in this conference to grow a program from resources and marketing promotion, facilities, (and) coaching staffs. You have a lot of great athletic directors in this conference that have attracted great coaches.”

FCP: How important is administrative support, both at the athletic department level and in the chancellor’s office, to the success of a college program?

BH: “I think it’s critical in that decision. For me, that’s the reason why I am at Kansas because of Lew Perkins. And after the opportunity to speak with Lew, it’s paramount to your success because with Lew Perkins, he built Connecticut’s programs in the men’s and women’s programs. He is comfortable making difficult decisions to spend money on the women’s program and he’s already had those experiences and shares that vision for all athletics. Obviously, I think for the women’s program, he’s a visionary and he has the passion for it. And that puts us in the drivers seat. It gives us a chance because of his commitment.”