FORT WAYNE – In his first season as the Mad Ants’ coach, Conner Henry guided them to the best record in the regular season, the D-League championship and was selected Coach of the Year.
The following are his words on the season:
This is all an unbelievable feeling. I had good coaches growing up, like Jack Helber and Ken Scalmanini, to Jerry Pimm and Ben Howland in college, and then all the professional coaches from K.C. (Jones) to Bill Fitch. Even though I only played a small part in their success, I look back to all the little things.
I like to coach and I’m very lucky to have this happen in my first year here, winning a championship and Coach of the Year. You know, Dennis Johnson was (an NBA teammate of mine) in Boston. And the Coach of the Year award is named after him. When I got off the plane there for my first day of practice with the Celtics – and not a lot of people know this – but DJ took me after practice and brought me into his home. He gave me a room, gave me one of his cars and paid for everything my rookie year. I never got a chance to properly thank him later on in life, before he passed (in 2007). You know, it’s funny how things come full circle. I win that award and it’s named after DJ and he played such a big part in my early career and it’s special.
The last game (a 119-113 victory over Santa Cruz on Saturday) was like our whole season. Every game, we just found a way. If we needed a shot, we got a shot. If we needed a big stop, we got a big stop. Our locker room all year was great and they believed. They worked hard, even in this unbearable winter. I’m a guy from California! But they fought through this season and they loved it. We make some shots and win a couple games and all of a sudden, we form an identity that you believe. You put yourself in every situation and you feel like you’re going to win.
In the last game, Ron Howard made a big shot and Tony Mitchell made a big shot. Matt Bouldin kept grinding and making the right reads. Will Frisby came off the bench, and I’m so happy for him because he showed up the whole playoffs and played an unbelievable series. Sadiel Rojas, he’s arguably our MVP; he makes everybody better by doing all the dirty work. A lot of other people get a lot of credit, but I think he’s our MVP.
Around Christmas time, I get handed the keys to a Ferrari in Tony Mitchell. He comes back from China and all of a sudden I have to figure out how to incorporate him but keep the structure somewhat the same. They welcomed him back because they love him and they figured it all out. And here we are.
I never won a professional championship before as a head coach. I went to three finals (in the minors), two as a player and one two years ago in Los Angeles with coach Eric Musselman. Hey, Eric, what’s up? This championship is partly yours, buddy. So I’m very lucky, very lucky. I had a great group of guys who battled all year long and it’s a wonderful feeling.