Henderson found his place on the island

THURSDAY, FEB. 5, 2009

What prompted folks on Bainbridge Island to hire a coach with an 18-65 career record and expect to maintain standards their basketball program had come to expect?

“I didn’t even look at the record,” Bainbridge athletic director Annette Duval said. “We don’t think that indicates whether someone is a good fit or not. It’s a different situation, a different environment, different groups of kids.”

Former East Valley coach Steve Henderson fit their needs.

Henderson has won nearly as many games as he did in four years at EV. His team is 12-5 after its eight-game winning streak ended Tuesday night. Last week it shocked Class 3A No. 1 Franklin of Seattle, which was unbeaten at the time. You’d have to be a Ferris Saxon or Central Valley Bear to appreciate the accomplishment.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen in high school,” said Henderson, whose wins before this season were few and far between. “I’ve never seen a home-court advantage like we get on the island.”

Henderson isn’t the only coach to have left a Greater Spokane League program and succeeded elsewhere. Ex-University coach Len Bone has been a fixture at the State 4A tournament with Snohomish. Another ex-Titan, Mark Hein, has Lake Stevens, a team that hasn’t been to state in nearly three decades, in first place in the WesCo North League.

How do you explain it?

Duvall answered by citing examples of pro players and coaches who struggled in one environment and thrived in another.

“You see the person’s character, if he’s a good fit for what we wanted at Bainbridge,” Duvall said. “Steve is very articulate, intelligent, ambitious, and has a good work ethic, the things our kids have. We needed somebody able to be a few steps ahead of them. His youth was discussed more than the win-loss record.”

Henderson, EV class of 1999, was barely out of high school when he began coaching at his alma mater. He became head coach in 2005 upon the recommendation of outgoing coach Drew Vanderpool.

“It was his desire to improve,” Vanderpool said. “He went to a ton of practices at WSU and Gonzaga. He would sit and talk to coaches and watch. He went to all the clinics he could and was a real student of the game.”

EV has little in the way of basketball pedigree. You’d have to go back to 1968 for its third and last state tournament team. Henderson struggled. Yet Bainbridge, which had played for a state championship a few years ago, chose him to coach.

Duvall admitted Henderson had big shoes to follow, saying she believes he took the hardest coaching job in the state. Bainbridge is an insular upper-economic community. Expectations are high and high school sports are huge. It plays in the Metro League with such storied schools as O’Dea, Rainier Beach, Seattle Beach and Franklin.

Duvall said Henderson represented everything they wanted in a coach and is pleased that, after some early setbacks, the Spartans have started rolling. Having a 6-foot-10 player headed to Seattle University, good size and balanced scoring hasn’t hurt.

“The quickest way to win people over is to win – and that’s not necessarily fair,” she said. “The fact he’s won and upset Franklin will speed up the opportunity.”

Henderson said that he’d probably still be at EV if he’d landed a teaching job. Bainbridge provided that opportunity.

“I go in every single night knowing we have a chance to win and that’s pretty cool,” he said.

District 7 playoffs

District 7 2B and 1B basketball playoffs begin Tuesday for girls and Wednesday for boys. At stake are four berths to state in Yakima for 1B teams and three berths for 2B teams.

Tournaments begin at the home gyms of the highest seeds, then the 1B moves to Deer Park and Riverside high schools Feb. 14-21 and the 2B moves to Mt. Spokane and Mead, Feb. 16-28.

The Panorama has five 1B teams and the Bi-County gets three. The reverse is true for 2B schools.

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