Good Sport: DeUnna Hendrix, uncut

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jeffby Jeff Laughlin

As an addendum to this week’s cover story, I did an in-depth interview with High Point Women’s Basketball Head Coach DeUnna Hendrix. I found the whole interview fascinating, so I decided to publish the bulk of it, taking out some of the points she made in the article. I started with the recruiting process for a fairly new coach — she is in her third season as a Division I head coach.

TCB: What is the difference between recruiting as a head coach and recruiting as an assistant?

DH: As an assistant you recruit for your [head coach]. What do they like in their point guard, wings, posts, etc.? My opinion of kids was secondary. If I knew my HC wanted a fundamental [point guard], then that’s what I tried to go find, even if I preferred an athletic one.

TCB: Did you learn anything about the recruiting process while being recruited to play in college? Why did you decide on Richmond University?

DH: I learned a ton! A coach’s job is to sell everything about their program. I learned to narrow down the Top 3 priorities that were important to me. I chose Richmond because of the small-school atmosphere, family environment and competitive conference.

TCB: How do you sell High Point University to your recruits?

DH: HPU really sells itself. The campus is beautiful and unique. Our jobs, as coaches, are to get them on campus. Beyond that, we try to sell our successes within conference and our hopes of being a team that reaches the NCAA tournament every year eventually.

TCB: I’d also, obviously, like to ask about this current team. This team is a mix of players from former coach Hoover’s recruits [Jen Hoover coached the team for one year before Hendrix took over and Hendrix was one of her assistants] and your own, but you helped recruit them all having been an assistant. Was that an obvious advantage? Do you feel like this has been your team all along despite the movement of coaches?

DH: I definitely think helping recruit our current players made the transition easier for all of us. I’ve always felt invested in these student-athletes. I don’t believe in any kid “not being my kid” because I didn’t specifically bring them in. They all are.

TCB: After last year’s success — a National Invitational Tournament berth and most in-conference wins in school history, how did your goals shift to this year? Obviously, success changes culture. Have you noticed a change in this year’s team early in the season?

DH: Although we saw some success last year, we still came up short of our goals. We still didn’t make the NCAA tournament. Going into this year, our goals were pretty similar to last’s. Success absolutely changes culture. Our kids have now seen success and know when we’re not doing what we need to do to reach that success. We’ve never been the “hunted” and now people are starting to know about us so our players understand they have to come ready to play every night. Every day is a battle, whether it be in practice or in games.

TCB: Being a small conference school, do you base a lot of information on tough out-of-conference losses? Or wins, for that matter?

DH: Yes. I think your non-conference schedule matters when it comes down to deciding on postseason berths. To make post season, you have to beat some teams you’re not supposed to beat.

TCB: It seems like the deck stacks against Big South teams making the NCAA tourney unless they win the conference tourney. Does that make any part of the schedule less important than the end of the year?

DH: I think you just have to work your schedule to prepare you to win the tourney whether that be play three games in five days, play all bigger conference schools, play on the road, etcetera.

TCB: What does a typical practice look like at HPU?

DH: We never practice more than two hours. We spend an equal amount of time on both. We usually spend 30-45 minutes preparing for our opponents through scouting but we mostly focus on our improvement. We watch a ton of film outside of practice so during practice I really don’t like to stop and talk too much. We practice fast and intense because we play that way.

TCB: What’s your favorite part of coaching, generally? And specifically this year’s squad?

DH: I love the relationships that I get to have with these student-athletes. They are all so different from one another but basketball becomes a common denominator that builds a trust beyond the court.

TCB: Who is your favorite person to talk ball with?

DH: Anyone that will listen! I love talking about the game.

TCB: Favorite all-time player at any level of basketball?

DH: Kevin Garnett. His passion is unmatched.

TCB: Favorite coach to watch work a sideline?

DH: Undoubtedly, Shaka Smart [current head coach of Virginia Commonwealth University].

TCB: How much input do you allow your players as they progress in your system?

DH: A lot. I ask for their opinions for just about everything. Ultimately, it’s their team. I give them structure but they have a voice. There has to be a trust on both sides.