Few basketball coaches in the state boast more Sweet 16 experience than David Henley.
The western Kentucky native coached Holmes to Rupp Arena four times in five years from 2005-’09, winning it all in 2009. As a high school senior in 1983 he led Carlisle County to the championship game, where the Comets fell to Henry Clay.
And before that – as a 10-year-old – he handled shot-chart duties for his father Jim, who coached Carlisle to “The Greatest Show in Hoops” in 1975.
“We were ahead of Henry Clay at halftime and lost by 25 or 30 points,” Henley recalled of that early trip to the tournament, then held in Freedom Hall. “I’m one of those guys that memorized that state tournament program front to back and just loves the history of Kentucky high school basketball.”
Now Henley, who turns 47 on July 6, will look to make even more Sweet 16 memories after being named head coach at Eastern High School last month. He replaces Jason Couch, who left for Shelby County after a nine-year tenure that included regional crowns in 2009 and 2011.
Henley compiled a 282-114 record in 13 seasons at Holmes (1997-2010) and spent the last two years at North Oldham, going 34-28.
Eastern, which has a state title (1997) and seven regional titles in its history, went 17-14 last season and graduated all five starters.
As the KHSAA-mandated summer dead period (June 25 through July 9) took effect last week, Henley broke from shooting hoops with his son Jordan, 10, and wife Cindy to answer a few questions about his approach to the game and his hopes for the Eagles program.
Chris Cahill: You were an assistant at Murray State for four years and Duquesne for two before taking the Holmes job in 1997. What drew you to high school coaching?
David Henley: I think in the state of Kentucky there are probably seven or eight jobs that people want and Holmes is one of those jobs. The time we were in the A-10 (Atlantic 10 Conference), that was Calipari’s last year there and U-Mass was No. 1, Virginia Tech won the NIT, Rhode Island had a guy named Cuttino Mobley that played in the NBA forever, Xavier had James Posey who’s still in the NBA. It was a really tough league. We just weren’t that good and we weren’t getting any better.
C.C.:You grew up in Carlisle County, a place where high school basketball is a community-wide passion. Is it possible to replicate that level of support in a city like Louisville that is saturated with high schools and entertainment alternatives?
D.H.: The one thing about Eastern is, being over in Middletown, there is a sense of community from what I can tell. I don’t think you’ll ever have in a city the kind of camaraderie, togetherness, community-driven kind of a sports program like you’ll have in a county school. That’s just the nature of the beast. I do remember a couple years ago when Eastern was at the Sweet 16 (and) when you compared Eastern’s student section to other schools, they had twice as many as anybody. So I think there is some excitement there for a winning team and a good program.
C.C.:What does Eastern need to do to be competitive in a stacked Seventh Region that includes defending state champ Trinity and perennially tough Ballard?
D.H.:It comes down to players – you just got to get good players. (Trinity coach) Mike Szabo didn’t just become a great coach this year. He’s always been a really good coach; he just had really good players this year. The year we were 36-2 (2008-‘09) I wasn’t a rocket scientist; we had really good players. Eastern was 33-3 two years ago and they had four Division I players, and that’s what it comes down to. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Seventh Region, First Region, whatever region. Coaching is important – I don’t want to try to make light of it – but it’s all about players.
C.C.:What did you make of the NBA Finals?
D.H.:I love the NBA. LeBron is just amazing. I mean, the guy’s six-foot-nine, 275 pounds and he runs like a gazelle and is just so strong and he can shoot it.
There are people who love Michael Jordan so much that they would never admit it, and I’m a big Michael Jordan fan, but LeBron does the same things that Jordan did. Jordan won six titles but he did them with Scottie Pippen. Lebron’s at one now and he did it with Dwayne Wade. One player’s not going to win a championship, I don’t care what level you’re on.
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