Summitt, Henrickson share some coaching connections

By Ryan McCarthy

It was the summer of 1987. Bonnie Henrickson just wrapped up her first year as a graduate assistant at Western Illinois University.

With nothing more than a determination to work, Henrickson took advantage of WIU head coach Kelly Hill’s connection to Tennessee assistant Holly Warlick from their time together at Nebraska.

Hill put in a call to the Lady Vols to see if Henrickson could help out with the annual Pat Summitt Basketball Camp.

Knowing no one, Henrickson picked up her things from Macomb, Ill., and drove to Knoxville to work as a camp counselor.

Henrickson remained quiet and composed all week, but then lunch time came around one day and people were looking for someone to do Dana Carvey’s Saturday Night Live “Church Lady” sketch for the skit part of the camp.

“Bonnie comes across as a little stoic until you get to know her,” Mickie DeMoss, former long-time Tennessee assistant and current assistant coach for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever said. “When she did the ‘Church Lady,’ we just all fell out. We all said, ‘Bonnie’s doing that.’”

Henrickson completed the skit decked out in a wig and dress picked out by some other camp workers. It became one of the funniest sketches of the week.

“I just remember that she was hysterical,” former team manager and current Tennessee Assistant AD for Compliance and Operations for Todd Dooley said. “Her personality and her sense of humor always had something funny to say or do.”

Dooley was working the camp at the same time as Henrickson.

What Henrickson appreciates more than a few laughs was her priceless networking and eventual friendships that she made with many of the coaches.

Henrickson faced off against then and current Tennessee legendary head coach Pat Summitt in Kansas’ Sweet 16 game on March 24.

Timeline: Bonnie Henrickson’s Road to the NCAA Tournament

Throughout the years, Henrickson has been fortunate to get to know Summitt in small increments.

She’s sat in on dinners where some of the coaching elite discussed the growth of women’s basketball and the development of the game, among other subjects.

“There’s so much seriousness and it’s so competitive, but you can appreciate people when you’re sitting next to them and laugh and share stories,” Henrickson said.

Summitt is the standard for women’s basketball. Eight National Championships. 18 Final Fours. 20 All-Americans.

And that doesn’t even include all the charity work that she’s done to grow the women’s basketball game.

This year has been especially big for Summitt, as her “We Back Pat” campaign has drawn national attention because of her diagnosis with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

“The game of women’s basketball wouldn’t be where it’s at today without Pat Summitt, and that says a lot about who she is,” Dooley said.

Summitt had a reduced role this year, including not meeting with the media regularly and sitting on the bench during much of the games.

But the Volunteers came within one game of reaching another Final Four before running into the buzzsaw of the Baylor Lady Bears in the Elite Eight.

Summitt has relied on three former head coaches and associated head coach Holly Warlick, who played for Summitt from 1976-1980 and has been an assistant since 1985, for help with coaching in her condition.

“Like we said from the beginning, these are uncharted waters,” DeMoss said. “We’ve kind of learned as we’ve gone, but I think what superseded this situation is the love and respect that we have for Pat. That supersedes everything.”

Summitt is a devoted and thoughtful person, but that is sometimes lost in the mix of her gruesome practices and harsh halftime speeches.

Still, Summitt takes the time to help anyone who wants to learn about the game.

“Pat is a very grounded person,” DeMoss said. “Always has been. She comes from humble beginnings. Her family is very important to her, and that never changes, that never waivers.”

After moving up the women’s basketball assistant coaching ranks, Henrickson got her first shot as head coach in 1997 at Virginia Tech.

Under her guidance, the Hokies reached at least twenty victories each season while also making five NCAA tournament appearances.

But when Henrickson had a chance to grab somebody from the Summitt coaching tree, she didn’t pass up the opportunity.

Fresh off of her stellar career that included two national titles with the Lady Vols, Kyra Elzy spent one year in 2002 as an administrative assistant under Henrickson at Virginia Tech.

Playing for coach Summitt might be one of the most demanding positions in college basketball, and Elzy felt the brunt of it, being a leader on the court by playing 126 games in four years. She also excelled in the classroom and became the first Tennessee player to earn a master’s degree while still playing.

“She’s very intense,” Elzy said. “She’s a winner. She demands excellence. She’s extremely demanding, but there’s a method to her madness and it obviously pays off.”

Although Elzy had personal success, Henrickson can only remember her talking about her teammates and her coaches.

“Kyra doesn’t talk about how many games they won,” Henrickson said. “She talks about how good they were to her.”

Henrickson picked Elzy again to become a full-time assistant for the Jayhawks when she took the head coaching position in Lawrence.

Among many talents, recruiting is one of Elzy’s specialties. Elzy helped the Jayhawks land its first top 20 signing class in 2007.

“I think you just have to be true to who you are and really be able to be and honest in what they’re going to get from the university,” Elzy said. “Make sure you sell your head coach, but more importantly you need to be persistent and just sell a family atmosphere.”

Elzy has a special connection with Summitt dating back to her playing days. Summitt is someone who pushed Elzy, but always had a loving touch at the end of the day.

“I think what people don’t get to see is the loving and the caring person that she is off the court,” Elzy said. “She really wanted to make sure that we became women ready for the world and also stay humble enough to give back to other people.”

Elzy also feels a great connection to Henrickson, someone who gave her the opportunities to move forward in her career, as well.

Elzy was the associate head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats team that made the Elite Eight this season.

“I will always be grateful and forever indebted to Bonnie,” Elzy said. “She gave me my first chance in the business straight out of college. I had the opportunity to study under and I think I’m a better coach today because of it.”

Being a women’s college basketball coach is a demanding job.

During the season, a head coach might notch a dozen hours of sleep in between watching film, while the athletes grasp a few hours for homework and freedom away from basketball.

Henrickson is one of these coaches, but something she picked up from Summitt long ago was to take the time to write letters.

Throughout her career, Summitt has hand written a note back to every piece of fan mail she’s received until this year. In fact, Henrickson would occasionally write Summitt a note and every time, she would get a handwritten note back.

The personal touch of a hand-written letter is special in an ever-growing technological environment.

That’s why Henrickson has her own set of stationary to do the same thing with many of players and coaches that she writes to throughout the year.

Henrickson wants to show people who coaching is more than about being a great basketball player; it’s about building a family around your team.

“If Pat Summitt has the time to do it, Henrickson said. “Then I have time to do it.”

— Edited by Christine Curtin, originally published Tuesday, April 17, in the University Daily Kansan


Jayhawks try to move forward without Davis

By Ryan McCarthy

The Kansas women’s basketball team suffered a major setback on Sunday when Carolyn Davis dislocated her knee and tore her ACL. On Monday, players and coaches conferred for their first practice without Davis, the audio story below has their reactions to the news and how the team will adjust:

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Kansas coaches and players on what the team will look like without Carolyn Davis

Story Transcript:


RYAN MCCARTHY, BYLINE: One day after Carolyn Davis’ junior season was ended by a dislocated left knee and torn ACL during the 47-43 defeat to Kansas State, it was obvious the Kansas star player was on her teammates’ minds. But when the whistle blew for practice on Monday, the Kansas Women’s basketball team realizes that it must get back to work so they can secure their postseason goals. Senior forward Aishah Sutherland will lead the Jayhawks in Davis’ absence for the remainder of the season. She finished with 12 points and 17 rebounds against Kansas State

AISHAH SUTHERLAND: “We’re just going to take it easy today and recover and stay focused. We have other game we have to attend to. We just all need to figure out how we’re going to work around this and come together as a team.”

MCCARTHY: Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson knew it would be difficult day for her team, but with many of the players suffering the same injury as Davis in the past, the team had a lot of experience to lean on this situation.

BONNIE HENRICKSON: “So many of them have been through it. There’s the physical piece there’s also such a big emotional piece.”

MCCARTHY: Without Davis, Kansas will have to rely on freshman forward Chelsea Gardner. Gardner played in 23 minutes and scored seven points after Davis left the game on Sunday. Sutherland gave Gardner advise on how to handle the situation.

CHELSEA GARDNER: “Aishah was motivating me to ‘just step up Chelsea you can do it. I know it’s a big thing for you, but just come out and work and just be motivated.’ “

MCCARTHY: Gardner had a chance at the last shot of the game. Junior guard Angel Goodrich passed the ball to her with five seconds remaining on the game clock. Gardner didn’t make the shot but Henrickson said the opportunity showed what kind of trust her teammates have in the freshman.

HENRICKSON:  “I know her teammates have confidence in her. Angel wouldn’t have thrown that in at the end if she wouldn’t of had confidence in her. We watched it again as a staff and we said man Angel put a lot of faith in her throw it in where she did. A couple times she made a good decision. Sometimes she got caught in traffic, but if I’m Chelsea Gardner I’m thinking, Angel’s really good and she threw me the ball. She shouldn’t think ‘oh I missed it’. She should think my teammates have confidence in me and coaching staff does too.”

MCCARTHY: Although Kansas lost a crucial part of their team on Sunday, Henrickson still believes the core they have can help them achieve their postseason aspirations.

HENRICKSON: “We know what we lost, but let’s talk about what we didn’t lose, or how dialed in they were or how defensively how good they were. We’ll have to defend better because when you someone who scores like that you don’t have as much wiggle room on the defensive end, well we can control that.”

MCCARTHY: The Jayhawks next game is at Iowa State on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

This is Ryan McCarthy reporting for