WBK: UCSB goes with experience, hires former Kansas coach Henrickson


UCSB went with experience in hiring a new women’s basketball coach.

Bonnie Henrickson, who has 18 years of Division 1 college head coaching experience, including the last 11 at the University of Kansas, was introduced as the Gauchos’ coach at a press conference on Thursday.

In her 18 years as a head coach at Virginia Tech and Kansas, Henrickson guided her teams to 14 postseason appearances, including seven NCAA Tournaments. At Kansas, she led the Jayhawks to the postseason seven times: five NITs and two NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 berths in 2012, 2013.

That experienced mattered to UCSB Director of Athletics John McCutcheon.

“Experience as a head coach is key,” he said. “Whenever you hire an assistant who has never been a head coach, sometimes you can hit a home run, and sometimes you don’t know how it’s going to work out. But with Bonnie, with the level and depth of her experience as a head coach, at the highest level of competition, in different rebuilding situations, you’ve got a track record to hang your hat on.”

Hutchinson was let go by Kansas after this past season, which ended at 15-17 overall and 5-13 in the Big 12 Conference. She received a buyout of $395,000, per the terms of a contract extension signed after the 2013 Sweet 16 appearance, according to a newspaper report.

Henrickson replaces Carlene Mitchell, who came to UCSB four years ago with no Division 1 head coaching experience. Mitchell was fired after a 2-27 season.

In addition to her coaching experience, Henrickson has contacts in California for recruiting.

“Bonnie brings to the program a wealth of head coaching experience and developed California recruiting contacts,” McCutcheon said. “I said early in this process those were the two key things I was going to be looking at in our new coach. During her time at Kansas over the past 11 years, she demonstrated to us she was able to do that. When Kelly (Deputy AD Kelly Barsky) and I called around the state to various recruiting pipelines, it became clear to us she was a known entity. We didn’t have to bring up her name, they brought her name up to us. That meant a lot.”

Henrickson stressed the importance of recruiting in state.

“The most important thing for us is identifying the talent in the state of California,” she said. “Our priority will be California, our focus will be the West Coast. I’ve spent 11 years building relationships with some high school coaches and AAU coaches, so I can make a connection pretty quickly when I walk into a room. I take a lot of pride in that. I have a lot of support out here.”

Bonnie Henrickson is the new women's basketball coach at UCSB. She previously coached at Kansas and Virginia Tech.

Bonnie Henrickson is the new women’s basketball coach at UCSB. She previously coached at Kansas and Virginia Tech.

While at Kansas, she said she spent a lot time recruiting in California and joked: “I’m surprised I haven’t been hit with some property taxes.”

She brought back former Gaucho assistant Evan Unrau to help with recruiting. Unrau was on Lindsay Gottlieb’s UCSB staff back in 2007-08.

Henrickson switched gears from recruiting to point out that the current players in the program are really important right now.

“That’s our focus right now, the players in the program,” she said as she looked at them in the front row of the auditorium. “Sometimes you get caught up in recruiting and you forget the most important recruits are the kids in your program.”

She said the three things she expects from her players: ‘First and foremost is a commitment to earn your degree. That’s why you’re here; second, a commitment to train to win a championship; we all want to win, but are we committed to training to win a championship, and third is to be a great role model in this community that loves women’s basketball. It’s about the choices you make on and off the court.”

Henrickson isn’t a stranger to rebuilding programs. At Virginia Tech, she led the Hokies to the biggest turnaround in school history, going from 10-21 and a last-place finish in league to a 22-10 record, its first Atlantic 10 Conference title and a NCAA Tournament second-round appearance in 1997. She led the Hokies to 20 or more wins every season through 2004.

She was named Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year in her second season at Virginia Tech was a finalist for national coach of the year honors.

In 2005, she took over a Kansas program that resided at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. In her second year, the team received a WNIT berth and posted its first winning season in six years at 17-13. Her teams made it a habit of upsetting nationally ranked opponents. The most notable was snapping Baylor’ 53-game conference winning streak last season.

The pinnacle of Henrickson’s tenure at Kansas was a three-year stretch from 2011-2013 when the Jayhawks reached the 20-win plateau each year and twice reached the NCAA Sweet 16.

Henrickson is a 1986 graduate of St. Cloud University in Minnesota. She played on three conference championship teams and went to three the Division 2 quarterfinals. She earned a master’s degree in physical education from Western Illinois and served as a graduate assistant basketball coach at the school. Before becoming a head coach, she worked nine years as an assistant at Virginia Tech and Iowa.

In her career, she’s coached four future WNBA players, 14 all-conference players and three academic All-Americans.

Henrickson recognized the past success of the UCSB women’s program — 14 conference championships and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2004 — and said there is a “blueprint for that type of success, and that matters.”

She added: “We will get this back to a championship level. It can be done here. I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t think it. I promise I wouldn’t.”