Mad Ants coach Conner Henry preaches defense first, high-octane offense and having fun on the court.
Those are all great concepts when you're winning, which Henry knows is expected in succeeding Duane Ticknor as the team's coach.
“I put pressure on myself all the time,” Henry said. “I like to win, and when you don't win games, you have to push harder to be more thorough and try to figure things out. I'm a lifer. I love this game. It's what I enjoy to do. Pressure is something that only gets to you if you let it.”
The expectations of winning –Ticknor logged the Ants' first playoff berth in six years in the NBA Development League last season – attracted Henry to Fort Wayne and prompted Ants president Jeff Potter to offer Henry the job.
Henry, 50, was introduced as the team's coach at a news conference Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum.
Potter piled some big expectations on Henry's shoulders right out of the gate.
“When I made calls to different people, Conner's name came up consistently as the guy they thought could be the next great head coach in our league,” Potter said.
Henry's previous head coaching experience came in the Australian pro leagues and he spent the last two seasons as an assistant with the D-League's Los Angeles D-Fenders. After his college career at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Henry spent time as a player in the NBA, including a season with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, and played in the old Continental Basketball Association and overseas.
His approach as coach is a mixture of opposites, he said.
“I played under Bill Fitch with the Rockets and K.C. Jones with the Celtics, and both have completely different styles,” Henry said. “K.C is quiet and Bill is animated. What's my style? It's a combination of both. I can get pretty intense, but you also need a good working environment where there's not a lot of pressure, but everybody knows we have expectations. Play hard and have fun.”
Henry will be joined on the Ants' staff by returning assistant coach Steve Gansey, who Henry praised for his work as a defensive coach under Ticknor.
Potter said Henry was the name at the top of his list when he began the coaching search after Ticknor moved on to a position as assistant with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.
“Some of Conner's strong points are his experience as a player, and assistant coach in our league,” Potter said. “He knows the players in our league, which is very valuable as you create a winner and keep a winner.
“His preparation and attention to detail – if you have those two things, it bodes well for you as a head coach,” Potter said. “I think he'll have a fun style of play that Mad Ants fans will enjoy.”
Henry said he welcomes the chance to build on the success Ticknor established last season.
“The support here in the community is strong, but at the end of the day, we have to win,” Henry said. “That's everybody's goal here – to win some games and make the playoffs, have a successful playoff run and see what happens.”