Together, on and off the court: How WU’s married women’s basketball coaches make it work
As a basketball coach, Duez Henderson has had to make a lot of difficult decisions over the years. He’s managed lineups, debated defensive strategies and designed last-second, buzzer-beating play calls. But for all the choices Duez has made, one especially ambitious, rewarding gamble stands out.
Randi Henderson was recruiting players for the Coe College women’s basketball team when she received an unsuspecting email from a former classmate. Randi had never formally met Duez in her time as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa; though the two had competed for the Hawkeyes’ basketball teams, their paths rarely crossed. In fact, she’d first encountered Duez only weeks earlier, when the two were placed on the same team for an alumnus fundraising event.
Fortunately, the complete happenstance had opened a narrow window for Duez to shoot his shot, and the day after the game, Duez, who Randi joked had “taken all the shots” during the game, sent her a complete statistical breakdown of the team’s performance. Randi was entranced. The two started exchanging daily emails, culminating in Duez inviting Randi to watch one of his players work out in-person. Her recruiting trip turned into the Hendersons’ first informal date, and the rest is history.
Even before their marriage, both Hendersons had been heavily involved with teaching the game of basketball since their collegiate days. Randi had coached for a number of Division III schools, including the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Coe College. And Duez, who returned to the states after seven years in Germany, had turned to the private sector, focusing on skill development and leading an Amateur Athletic Union team. Coaching basketball together seemed like a natural fit, so after serving as an unofficial assistant to Randi during many of the years she spent at UNC-Charlotte, Duez joined Wash. U. alongside his wife as her official assistant coach.
As the only two full-time coaches for the Wash. U. women’s team, Randi and Duez are a rare breed. Except at a few other schools, most notably Gonzaga University, you’d be hard pressed to find another squad led by married partners, a reality that—on its surface—seems self-explanatory. After all, forcing a married pair to resolve coaching disagreements between themselves—and only themselves—would appear to come with its fair share of disadvantages.
But by tapping into the trust they have for each other off the court, the Hendersons have been able to make difficult choices without sacrificing their love for one another. “We are fortunate that we trust each other in general, both as husband and wife,” Randi said. “But also, the trust and respect that we have for each other professionally is tremendous. When he’s presenting something, I know where he’s coming from, and I can trust and respect that opinion.”
That’s not to say Randi and Duez don’t have very different personalities. Duez, Randi noted, is the more light-hearted of the two. “He’s very funny. And he’s silly. And he’s always thinking about random things that come up, like a picture of something or a poster or a quote or a tweet that’s ridiculous,” she said.
Randi, on the other hand, could better be described as the team’s wholesome mother. “I’m more of like, let’s set up a FaceTime and talk and ask questions to each other,” she joked. The Hendersons have been able to transfer their unique bond and energy onto the court. Since they arrived in St. Louis three short years ago, the duo has coached the Bears to two NCAA tournament berths. In the most recent of those years, 2019, Wash. U made it all the way to the Elite Eight.
For all the joy that coaching together has brought Randi and Duez Henderson, there’s always been a sense that their days as co-parents of the Bears may be limited. Down the line, it’s likely that Duez may be offered a head coaching job of his own, an opportunity that would be hard to pass up. “Randi and I, we’ve had conversations that if that opportunity does come up, you know, I look at it from two different lenses,” Duez said. “Just like with anything, I look at, first, what’s going to be the best decision for our family. And second, what’s going to be the best move for me professionally. You weigh those two things out, and then you make the decision.”
But for now, a job search is not really on Duez’s radar. The two have had their hands full enough navigating the challenges of running both a basketball team and a family during a global pandemic. And Duez has had to step into an even bigger role while Randi, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last February, gets treatment.
For both Hendersons, it’s clear the ends justify the means. The coaching business, simply put, is addictive. “It’s hard to explain, but like, I get goosebumps even thinking about yesterday’s hour and 15-minute workout,” Randi said with a smile. “Our kids poured everything into it. When you can be a part of a gym that creates this weird energy that you can feel, it makes you want to come back and do it again. And I think that, to me, is special about coaching, and I don’t know if you can get that in any other type of environment.”
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