From D3hoops.com/Adam Turer
When the Henderson family commits, they go all in.
That ethos makes it no surprise that Randi and her husband Duez have fit in seamlessly in their first season at Washington U.
This job was going to be a monumental challenge for whoever accepted it. Filling the shoes of Nancy Fahey--with her 733 wins and five national championships and .847 winning percentage over 31 seasons--was always going to be impossible. Henderson, the former head coach at Coe and assistant at Division I Charlotte, knew that this transition needed to be a collaboration.
“The players here are amazing. Coach Fahey did a phenomenal job of instilling in them hard work, communication, and commitment. They’ve embraced myself, Duez, the kids, a change to our style of play,” said Henderson. “The seniors especially, I know what it’s like to come in and play for a new coach your senior year, especially one who had so much success. They’ve been great in helping me as well.
“It’s important that they know we’re on the same team. We want to keep winning. They love that they’re part of Wash U. We respect that there has been a lot of groundwork laid. I want to keep developing these young women as leaders and teammates.”
The move to a new city and an exciting head coaching opportunity were just part of the changes for the Henderson family in 2017. A few weeks after Henderson accepted the job, she learned that she was pregnant with her second child. On December 15, Zeke joined 17-month-old sister Harper as the newest member of the Bears family. Duez, like his wife a former player at Iowa, is now an assistant coach for the Bears. The couple have been able to make all of this work, leading the program to a 9-2 start which included wins over two ranked teams.
“Randi and I do a really good job of taking things in stride and accepting challenges as they come,” said Duez. “Our close friends joke with us: ‘you guys really know how to do it, throwing everything at yourselves at once.’ We’re both very active. When we did have children, we were going to incorporate them into our lifestyle. It’s been great. Harper and I made every road trip last year [at Charlotte], we didn’t miss a game. Both of our kids have seen and heard more basketball than I did the first 15 years of my life.”
The WashU community has been accommodating and supportive. Harper, and now Zeke, are always welcome at practice. The family atmosphere has made an impression on the Bears players, too.
“It’s really fun to watch. There are times where she’s doing it all--coaching us, holding a baby, Duez is watching the older child. It’s fun to watch an organized and intense coach and see her as the wonderful parent she is,” said senior Natalie Orr. “It’s important to us as young women to see such a great coach and also see her balance that with motherhood. It’s been amazing to see her go through her own challenges and to see her continue to be consistent for us.”
In some ways, the whirlwind year has helped Henderson stay in the moment. She doesn’t have time to think about any pressure or expectations that could have weighed on her job of replacing a legend and Hall of Famer in Fahey.
“Might as well do it all at once I guess,” Randi said with a laugh. “It’s been pretty steady and consistently busy. The people here have been super supportive and helpful filling in the gaps. Duez and I have great communication. One of the most fortunate things with the start to UAA play is we have two weekends of home games. It definitely worked out in our favor.”
Coaching while eight, then nine, then beyond nine months pregnant was certainly a challenge. Having the support of the players, coaching staff, and administration, made it easier.
“I wasn’t as mobile; fatigue was a big thing. I had to balance my energy,” she said. “I think overall, towards the end especially, the fans were the ones who were more concerned.”
Henderson carefully navigated the coaching transition. She understood that she could not simply start from scratch with her own style. Yes, the offense looks markedly different. But, it was important to maintain several traditions. The players were there to hold her accountable, but that hasn’t been necessary.
“I think everyone has adapted well to the big change that it’s been. As seniors, our goal was to act as the conduit between the old traditions we had at WashU and the new style we wanted to bring in with Coach Henderson. We wanted to remain a strong team with some traditions intact,” said Orr. “In the past, we prided ourselves on consistent, everyday work ethic in how we approach practice, scouting, travel. We never take an opponent lightly. I think Coach Fahey did a great job of establishing that and setting an example of preparing for every opponent.
“Every one of us as players came into this season with a mindset that we have each other. No matter the leadership, we’re always going to have each other. Having Coach Henderson and Duez come in has only been a positive added to that.”
The Bears are ranked No. 22 in the latest Top 25 poll and have their sights set on continuing their streak of postseason appearances. Much of the early success in the Henderson regime can be attributed to the conversations that happened in the preseason.
“The players have been absolutely great. One of the first things Randi did when she took over the job was she didn’t want it to be a total newness with everything. She did a great job of sitting down and talking to the girls and asking them what traditions they’d like to keep,” said Duez. “She wanted to honor the past, but realizes that it’s her program now. She’s done a great job of putting her own stamp on it while still honoring what Coach Fahey created.”
So, how does the wife-and-husband tandem work? The duo have coached together at clinics and at Duez’s Point Guard Academy in Iowa, which he still directs.
“People at Randi’s other jobs may say it’s my first time being on the bench, but I did a good job of making myself heard. It’s been great for me, to be able to be side-by-side with Randi and be able to help her in any way I can,” he said. “The girls have been very welcoming to both myself and obviously with Coach.”
“The thing that is really cool is we both have open minds and we’re open to learning from the other person,” said Randi. “Because of that mutual respect, we’ve really been having a great time. We balance each other out really well. I think the girls really enjoy it as well. When you have an ability to do it, it’s really special.”
This has felt like a perfect fit for the Hendersons since Randi first interviewed. It’s fitting that the newest member of their family was born a Bear.
“When Randi first interviewed, after the first day of interviews, she came back to the hotel and said she had a great feeling,” said Duez. “You can do as much research and ask as many questions but once you really go to a place and see how they interact with you and with each other, that’s what really made WashU a great fit for our family.”
The new coaching staff has made an impression on the returning players. The WashU community has embraced the Hendersons. With Harper and now Zeke at practices, each day is truly a family affair for the Bears. Those relationships are the foundation for all of the success that will come their way this season and in years to come.
“I’m a big believer if you do things the right way and treat people right, the right things are going to happen,” said Henderson. “All of our staff is really committed to doing things right and treating people right.”