Former Wichita State women’s basketball player Marisah Henderson played two seasons for coach Jody Adams and is watching the turmoil around the program from her home in Kansas City.
She views her time with Adams and the coaching staff differently than the former players who are speaking publicly to complain about issues in the program. Henderson, part of Adams’ first team at WSU, did not consider strong words from coaches verbal abuse. She contends that players who left the program took words too literally and weren’t ready for what she called constructive criticism from Adams.
“What Jody was trying to do was pull something out of you that you didn’t see yourself,” said Henderson, who played at WSU from 2008-10. “They were very demanding, but I didn’t feel they crossed the line. The remarks made were the same made by any coach.”
Adams and her coaching style are at the center of an inquiry into the women’s basketball program that began after four players decided to transfer. Faculty athletic representative Julie Scherz, associate professor in communication disorders and sciences, is talking to former players and parents about the program and reports to university president John Bardo.
The publicity is motivating Adams’ supporters to speak out, including WSU men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall, who made a statement in support of her.
“I've always known Jody to be very intense and demanding,” Marshall said. “I've never seen her, in the seven years we've worked together, do anything that I would consider crossing the line. I know she holds herself and her team to a very high standard.”
Many of those who support Adams remain in coaching.
In 2009-10, Henderson was a senior who played with a group of freshmen such as Chynna Turner, Jessica Diamond and Jazimen Gordon who led WSU to its first MVC title and NCAA appearance in 2013. Players left during that time and Turner considered them athletes who did not want to meet the program’s standards and blamed Adams for their shortcomings.
“The people who thrived, we pushed through,” Turner said. “She’s given us the right tools to succeed.”
Gordon, a current member of the WSU staff as a graduate manager, said she has not witnessed the verbal abuse claimed by some and strongly denied a report of coaches throwing basketballs at players or making them hold concrete boulders until their arms bled. As a manager, she is around the team during practices and conditioning and in the locker room, she said.
“In my six seasons, I’ve never seen Jody, or any coach, throw anything at a player,” Gordon said. “It’s shocking to me to see some statements being made.”
Gordon, like other players, described her tenure as a player as full of challenges and hard times.
“Was my experience the happy-go-lucky, perfect experience?” she said. “I would say no. I will say it’s made me the woman I am today. I wouldn’t change too much of anything. If anything, I would change how I reacted.”
Former WSU assistant coach Carlai Moore played for Adams at UMKC and Southern Illinois and worked as her assistant coach at Murray State. She followed Adams to WSU in 2008 and stayed through the 2012 season. Complaints regarding coaching styles and athletes who transfer are common at many schools and not a reflection upon Adams, she said.
“Those stories come with every program,” Moore said. “There are many kids that leave for different reasons. Most of the time, kids that leave are not a good fit. Every kid who goes to college is a superstar somewhere. Things begin to change.”
Moore, who coaches AAU and high school basketball in Kansas City, wants detractors to consider Adams’ winning record and her work with players away from basketball.
“It’s all about creating an atmosphere of personal growth,” Moore said. “It’s about the total package for Jody. She is really about family.”
Henderson appreciated Adams’ demands for her to communicate more, improve her leadership and improve her conditioning to play more minutes. She continues to follow the program and is proud to see the growth in attendance when she returns to games at Koch Arena. WSU has won three consecutive Missouri Valley Conference titles and made three trips to the NCAA Tournament, unprecedented success for the program.
“We bumped heads a lot,” Henderson said. “I felt like, in my early 20s, constructive criticism was something very hard to take. When I look back, I see some of the areas … where I could have been better. There are a lot of things that correlate to the real world. One of Jody’s biggest things is communication. You’ve got to talk to your teammates. I was a quiet player. But we got there. I wasn’t a quiet player when I left.”