Bainbridge's new hoops coach likes a challenge

BHS basketball coach Steve Henderson (center) may not look much older than some of his players,  but he had several years of coaching experience in Spokane before joining the Spartans. -
BHS basketball coach Steve Henderson (center) may not look much older than some of his players, but he had several years of coaching experience in Spokane before joining the Spartans.
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When new Bainbridge basketball coach Steve Henderson graduated from Spokane’s East Valley High School in 1999, he says now, “I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

His immediate plan was to go to Spokane Community College and try to make the team as a walk-on basketball player. His outlook on anything beyond the confines of the court was still somewhat blurry.

During the summer, however, his life took a twist that he couldn’t have foreseen.

East Valley’s freshman basketball coach asked Henderson to help out with the team. Soon afterward, Henderson also was asked to be an assistant with the varsity team.

“I was standing there with the whistle and I took over,” he said. Just 19 years old, the direction of his life suddenly came into sharp focus.

“I realized what I wanted to do,” he said. “Education was the route I wanted to go schoolwise.”

As he pursued his degree at Eastern Washington, Henderson coached the East Valley freshmen for four years and moved up to the JV level for the 2003-2004 season. He experienced success at both levels: one of his freshman teams went 17-3 and the JVs compiled a 14-6 mark.

When the varsity coach stepped down after the 2004 season, he recommended Henderson as his replacement. The school didn’t waste any time, hiring Henderson even though he was still doing his student teaching.

From personal experience, Henderson realized that he had his work cut out for him. His school wasn’t exactly known as a hoops hotbed.

“East Valley over the years has been awful,” he said. “We had no basketball tradition whatsoever. We’re a wrestling school.”

One example of the lack of tradition Henderson referred to was the fact that when East Valley qualified for the regional tournament during his senior year, it was the first time the school had advanced that far in at least 30 years.

While his most recent team at East Valley compiled a 1-19 mark, that record comes with a couple of asterisks. One is that he fielded an undersized team liberally sprinkled with freshmen and sophomores. Another is that while East Valley is its own school district, the team plays in the highly competitive Greater Spokane League.

The league includes a number of 4A teams, including Ferris, which was arguably the most dominant Washington basketball team during the past two seasons, going undefeated and winning the 4A title both years. One particular highlight was routing Franklin, one of the premier programs in the Seattle area, in the 2007 state tournament.

And during the 2006-2007 season, East Valley split two games with North Central, winning at home and losing the other one in overtime. North Central, 4-16 during the regular season, caught fire in the post-season and won their first two games in the state tournament before playing Bainbridge in the semifinals.

Though the Spartans won easily 55-40, the game was by no means a runaway and North Central came back the following day to win and place third.

As had been the case with his first coaching job, Henderson’s route to the Bainbridge helm also was somewhat accidental. The position became vacant when former coach Scott Orness resigned during the spring.

“A friend of mine applied for the job,” he said. “But then he took a job somewhere else. So I picked up the phone and called Annette (Duvall, BHS athletic director). Before I knew it I had an interview scheduled. It was a quick process, I came over and got the job. I didn’t know anything about Bainbridge except that Steven Gray (an all-state player for the Spartans who is currently at Gonzaga) went there.

“I came over here blind,” Henderson said. “The first chance I had to look around was the day of my interview.”

According to Duvall, Henderson was one of four candidates chosen for an interview by the search committee from among seven applicants.

“The committee liked his energy and passion for the game,” she said. “And he was willing to commit himself to the Bainbridge basketball program. He’s following in high footsteps. My hat goes off to him for taking it on. I’m confident he’ll do just fine.”

In Henderson’s view, the job came with a huge bonus: the opportunity to teach full-time. He was not a full-time staff member at East Valley while coaching there, serving primarily as a long-term substitute. At Bainbridge, he teaches physical education and health.

“It’s nice being in the building (at BHS),” Henderson said. “The kids know where to find me. It’s hard to run a program from outside the building. And the community has been very welcoming.”

Henderson offers lots of athletic chops to the Spartans’ program.

He made the East Valley varsity baseball team as a sophomore, playing center field, first base and doing some pitching. He normally led off or batted second.

In basketball, he was the starting varsity point guard during his junior and senior years and served as captain as a senior.

Having played both sports “as far back as I can remember,” Henderson added football to his personal athletic mix as a senior.

“I’d never put on a helmet in my life,” he said.

That lack of experience wasn’t a hindrance. Henderson became a two-way starter, playing defensive back and wide receiver.

“I had a blast,” he said.

His varied athletic experiences have had a definite effect on his athletic philosophy.

“I’ve always encouraged kids to play other sports,” he said. “You only get the high school experience one time.”

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