It took Kansas State more than a month to officially introduce Jermaine Henderson as the school’s newest assistant men’s basketball coach, but don’t let that fool you into thinking Bruce Weber struck out trying to hire other candidates before settling on a familiar face.
Henderson was his first choice.
“I made the decision right away to do that,” Weber said. “We were all scrambling and recruiting, so we waited to work on his contract. But I told him I was going to do that from the start. He’s an experienced guy who has a great relationship with our players. He has recruited for many, many years and I thought it was a no-brainer to include him in our staff.”
Weber gained confidence in Henderson over the past two years while he served as the team’s director of student-athlete development, a job that allowed him to help and interact with K-State players whenever they weren’t on the practice floor. Some days, he was in charge of making wake-up calls. Other days, he was a motivator. At times, he studied more game film than anyone else in the building. He always tried to get the Wildcats ready for classes and games.
He wasn’t a coach, but he did everything he could to make the team better.
That much was obvious during practice, when he continued to make his presence felt as a spectator.
“I wanted to make sure my toes were right on the line,” said Henderson, 44. “I never wanted to break any rules. I couldn’t coach or direct any practice, but my energy and emotion were always there. I wanted to be the first guy patting our players on the back, encouraging them or getting them a drink, anything I could do to let them know I was there for them.”
Henderson embraced his new role with surprising enthusiasm, considering he arrived at K-State with 20 years of experience as an assistant coach.
A former player at Miami (Ohio), he has spent time coaching at his alma mater, Missouri State and, most recently, Cleveland State. He wasn’t sure where his career was headed when Cleveland State coach Gary Waters retired two years ago, so he was willing to try something new when K-State assistant Brad Korn contacted him about a job on the Wildcats’ support stuff.
After doing some research on Weber and his team, Henderson accepted the position site unseen.
“You normally get a young guy to do this job, so they took a little different approach with me,” Henderson said. “But it’s an important role and I am glad they took a chance on me. I have loved every minute of it.”
The highlight of Henderson’s coaching career came early on when he helped Wally Szczerbiak and Miami (Ohio) reach the Sweet 16 in 1999. That team lost to Kentucky in the regional semifinals, so he took it as a sign he was in the right place when K-State beat Kentucky to reach the Elite Eight last year.
“I was 22 when we reached that first Sweet 16,” Henderson said. “I had no idea it would take me 20 seasons to get back to another one. I choked up after we won that game and told the other coaches not to take it for granted that we will get back here.”
That’s all in the past. Now, Henderson is ready to focus on the future.
At the moment, that means recruiting. Before Weber officially promoted Henderson he designated him as a recruiter to fill in for former assistant Chester Frazier, who left for Virginia Tech, and Henderson has already traveled as far away as Seattle to evaluate talent.
His recruiting roots are in Ohio and the Midwest, so that is where he thinks he will spend most of his time searching for future players. But the Wildcats have also found success in Florida and Texas, in addition to closer locations.
“I want to be wherever they need me to be and wherever I can be most useful,” Henderson said. “We want to get to the East Coast and expand our territory. We will go all over for recruits and end up with a little bit of everything on our roster. We have had a lot of success with a little bit of everything.”
Henderson is excited to have a more hands-on approach as the Wildcats build toward next season. He likes the group K-State has returning, but he has ideas on how to make it even better.
As fun as the past two years have been, he’s ready to get back to his roots as an assistant coach.
“I’m excited to have a hand in recruiting and development,” Henderson said. “Some people have asked if I lost anything stepping away from the job, and the answer is no. I’m more eager than ever to do it again.”