After leading the Fort Wayne Mad Ants to two consecutive NBA D-League Finals appearances, complete with a championship victory and Coach of the Year award in 2013-14, Conner Henry is going home.
The former NBA player and international standout has been hired as new head coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders, minor league affiliate of the Lakers.
Though his tenure in Fort Wayne represented his first shot as head coach, Henry's start in the D-League was in fact in Los Angeles, where he served as assistant coach from 2011-13.
"I'm looking forward to returning to Los Angeles and to the D-Fenders organization," Henry said in a statement released by his new team. "I would like to thank General Manager Nick Mazzella and the Buss family for having the faith to bring me home to pursue an NBA D-League Championship. Our coaches, players and management will have one goal in mind, and that's for our team to compete nightly while representing the Lakers, D-Fenders and our fans."
"It is a sad day for the Mad Ants to be losing Conner, but we also could not be happier for him that he has an opportunity to be coaching closer to his home and family," Mad Ants President Jeff Potter said of the Southern California native. "Conner's life is in the Los Angeles area, and I knew this was the one job he might leave us for. I am so grateful for all he has done for our franchise, and we wish him every success as he embarks on this next journey. It has been a joy to work with Conner both personally and professionally -- he will be missed."
Coach Henry went 62-38 in two seasons as Mad Ants' head coach, good for a .620 winning percentage. As mentor to so many of the league's up and coming pro athletes, he continues to demonstrate a sound understanding of how to motivate and inspire such players. He keeps them focused and ensures they buy into his mentality of staying together and playing team-ball. Despite all of the other distractions that come along with playing in the minor league, especially the pressure to stand out and impress as individuals, Coach Henry is always one to stress that success comes by taking things one day (or game) at a time, coupled with the idea that the greatest feats his team will accomplish can only be done as a cohesive unit.
Though last season, things drastically changed with Fort Wayne suddenly having ties to thirteen different NBA affiliates, Coach Henry didn't appear to let that bother him too much or allow it to alter his approach, as evidenced by his continued success. He knew how to handle the situation, probably better than most coaches would have.
Visibly passionate about his players, staff, family, and the D-League in general, this appears to be a solid next step in Coach Henry's own respective journey. It's a smart move, but an even better hire for Los Angeles.