FORT WAYNE – For a couple years, team President Jeff Potter could envision Conner Henry coaching the Mad Ants.
That vision became reality Tuesday, when Henry was introduced at Memorial Coliseum as the new coach of the D-League franchise.
As I watch games, I always watch the benches and try to get a sense of who would be a good head coach, Potter said.
One of the people I always thought would be is now going to be our next head coach, Conner Henry.
hen I made our calls to different people, Conner’s name kept coming up consistently as someone they saw as the next great head coach in our league.
Henry replaces Duane Ticknor, who led the Mad Ants to their first playoff berth last season, then left to become an assistant coach with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
Henry, 50, fulfills the most important criteria Potter had for the job – he’s been a head coach before, with Perth in the Australian National Basketball League. In 2008-09, he was 17-13 and led the Wildcats to fourth place.
For the past two seasons, Henry has been an assistant coach with the D-League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders, who won a league-record 38 games in 2011-12 and set a record with eight NBA call-ups that season.
That tells you the kind of talent he’s able to find and the talent he’s able to develop, said Potter, adding that Henry worked under Eric Musselman and Reggie Theus with the D-Fenders.
Henry played in the NBA from 1986 to 1988 for Houston, Boston, Milwaukee and Sacramento. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Rockets out of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
A 6-foot-7, 195-pound guard, he averaged 3.3 points and 1.1 assists in his career.
He was MVP of the old Continental Basketball Association – in which the Fort Wayne Fury played – in 1990 and 1992 for Rapid City and Yakima, respectively.
I’m excited to be here, Henry said. We’ve got some good players returning, and we’ve got to build our roster and be very, very successful.
You’ve got a good base here and were very successful last year. I know the support in the community is strong. But at the end of the day we have to win – and that’s everybody’s goal.
Henry promised an exciting team will be at the Coliseum.
I’ve got a style of play, offensively, I think they’ll like to play, he said. We’ll get up and down the floor. If our spacing is good and we share the ball, we’ll score a good amount of points.
Steve Gansey will return as an assistant coach; he does a lot of work with the defense.
We’ll play tough, hard-nosed defense, Henry said. Steve does a great job on the defensive end.
But the greatest challenge for Henry may not be other D-League teams but dealing with the players purged from the Mad Ants by their NBA affiliates – Indiana, Detroit, Milwaukee, Memphis, Orlando and Charlotte.
That comes with success, though.
As you know, there’s a lot of turnover in the D-League, he said. The last two years in L.A., we had four guys from training camp who were still on our team after December. The trick is to finding those (core) guys and making sure they can fit into your system.
But Henry, who played in Italy, Spain, France and Greece before retiring in 1998, wants his players to know he’s passionate about helping them realize their goals.
The challenge is improving guys, he said. I’ve played in the CBA. I went to the (NBA) very briefly. If I can get guys on our team opportunities to get up there or overseas to make some money, that’s the goal. Or, if they want to coach someday, we’ll help make that happen.