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Damany Hendrix, The Pain and the Game

Damany Hendrix is currently the varsity head basketball coach for the Justin-Siena Braves.  As a player he has experience at the high school and collegiate level.  As a coach he has experience with club development, AAU and NCAA coaching.   His experience as a player and now a coach influenced him to publish a book, The Pain and the Game.  We wanted to know more about the book, coaching and AAU basketball.

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Dr. Mark: Why did you write a book?

Coach Hendrix: I started writing the book because I was in a really bad space at the time mentally and I thought it would be therapeutic.  As I got into my story I thought that this could be a good tool to help young athletes navigate through the ups and downs of high school and college athletics.  Many young athletes have no idea what it takes to be prepared for college in the classroom and in their respective sports.  Many of them have never even thought that their preparation may not be sufficient.  I believe that my story could be a tool for them to use in order to be better prepared for any obstacles that may be put in front of them.  If my journey can make these young people take an honest look at themselves and evaluate where they are academically, and athletically, and say “I need to buckle down to get where I want to be”, then the book was used for its proper intention.

 

Dr. Mark: What message can readers expect from your book?

Coach Hendrix: I believe there are a few messages that readers can take from my book and the first one is perseverance.  I have been through a lot because of the game of basketball, but I still devote lots of time and energy to the game because it’s what I love to do.  I love to teach the game, and help young people become better players.  The message I took from writing the book is that life is not perfect.  There will be things outside of your control that may attempt to block you from getting to your goals, but you have to learn to deal with those situations and not let anything stop you.  It also teaches that even if you put your all into it, you may still have to take an alternate route to your destination.  Lastly, we should always take an honest look at ourselves, evaluate the part we played in the outcome of all the decisions we make, and learn from our mistakes.

 

Dr. Mark: You took a run at D1 coaching, what happen?

Coach Hendrix: I could write a ten-page paper on all of the things that happened while I was pursuing a college coaching job, but I will try and summarize what happened.  College coaching is a network, and if you are not in the network or highly connected within the network, it is very difficult to get into the business. There are hundreds of guys that hold all the spots in the network, whether they perform well or not.  If one staff gets fired for not doing well at a particular school, many times all of those coaches land on their feet at another school where they have a connection.  It makes it difficult for any new coaches to get jobs because all of the available jobs are filled by guys who just got let go, want to move schools, or guys who were in part time positions such as graduate assistants, or director of operations.

The best way to get in as a new guy is to take a Grad assistant job right after graduation, and grind your way to the top.  I didn’t attempt to get into the coaching game until I was 3 years removed from college.  I had an interview with my old college coach who was going to hire me, but the athletic director made him hire another guy that was a graduate of that school.  That is another obstacle, politics play a big part in who a coach can hire.  It has to “make sense” to the institution to hire a new coach that’s just getting into the business.  So, it is very difficult to get hired unless you can hand deliver a high level prospect, which is how many guys get into the business.  I wasn’t going to attach myself to a player to get a job because once you do that, you have to be able to deliver a player at all times and I think your basketball acumen becomes devalued.  You become a “recruiter”.  I have put in too much time mastering my craft as a coach to be simply a “recruiter”.  After 9 years of chasing it, I decided to take a high school head coaching job and put all of my energy into becoming the best coach possible.  It was very rewarding being able to put into practice all of the things that I had learned on my journey, and it further let me know that this is my gift and I need to continue to put my all into becoming a great basketball coach.

 

Dr. Mark: Is AAU basketball good for the players and the college game?

Coach Hendrix: I used to think AAU was hurting the game, and it was a bad thing for the game.  My views have changed slightly, but I still think it is doing more harm than good.  AAU basketball has become more of a business and has taken away from the development of 95% of the kids that play it.  The top 5% are taken care of.  They have the best resources to improve their game ie. Trainers, elite camp, great instruction, and many of them good quality high school coaching.  For these kids, I believe that AAU has it’s place.  It gives them an opportunity to compete with and against the best players in the country consistently, and it gives the college coaches and accurate assessment of these kids abilities.  With that being said, it also has created the pampered athletes that we see today.  The best high school players get treated like royalty.  They are pros from the time they are 16 years old and are treated as such.  It causes entitlement issues among the kids, and they have trouble taking criticism, being disciplined, and small failures.  I believe that this has led to the 700+ transfers that we have seen at the division 1 level this year.

The EYBL is the greatest and highest level of high school basketball I have ever witnessed.  Nike has organized it in such a way that every game counts and winning is a bit more important, where in the past it wasn’t, it was more about showcasing your talent. Coaches want winners, and when you devalue the importance of winning it’s hard for coaches to see which kids are truly about getting the W.

For the other 95% I believe we are spinning our wheels, creating bad habits, and creating bad basketball players.  I am not saying that these kids aren’t talented, I am saying that they are playing a bad brand of basketball.  Over the course of the summer kids play up to 50 games, vs 30 high school games where there is a little bit of structure.  Hopefully, the high school coaches are teaching good defensive principles, and rotations because on the AAU circuit (outside of the EYBL) they are not.  Many of them sit in a zone and rarely even play man.  There is very little offense being run, and it’s mostly 1 on 1 iso on each end.  It’s hard to watch.  The ball doesn’t get reversed, it doesn’t go in the post, and now with all of the warriors success, most of the time it’s a bunch of kids jacking 3’s.  It’s the worst brand of basketball I have ever seen.

Many high school coaches have to spend the first few weeks re programming their kids to buy into a structured setting.  You have to re teach the good habits, and try to eliminate all of the bad habits they picked up over the summer.  Most high school coaches do not like AAU for this reason.  There is a disconnect between the two, and I am on the side of the high school coaches because if it’s not high level AAU, most times they aren’t  being taught to play the right way.

Middle school basketball is almost like recess.  It is hard to find quality basketball minds who want to teach at that level so most times it’s a dad who coaches these teams, and many times they know very little about the game on a technical level.  This isn’t a bad thing all the time because the elite talent gets scooped up by the better programs who have some decent instruction, but the other kids are left to fend for themselves.

I have a great passion for the game, and I am a bit of a purest, so my opinions may come of as the old guy screaming “get off my lawn”, but I have been observing all levels of basketball for over a decade now and I can see the change in the athlete.  I can see the change in the game at the college level as well.  I watch all levels of college basketball, and I have seen a decline in the skills, mainly the shooting at the college level.  There is also a lack of back to the basket scoring, a lack of ability to create your own shot, and poor knowledge of how to move without the ball and get open.  I have seen the emergence of the specialist, which isn’t a bad thing.  Every team appreciates and can use a “3 and D” guy on their roster to spread the floor and hold his own defensively.

I hope that the game moves more towards skill development of our young athletes and less playing games.  It hurts the non elite athlete and produces kids that are less prepared for the next level whether that’s Junior college or the four-year level.  With the emergence of the “trainer”, kids are getting skill instructions, now whether they are getting useful instruction or not is a case by case scenario, but I do know kids are working on their skills. I am encouraged by this movement.  But there are still too many unorganized, yet, organized games being played which is hurting basketball overall.

 

Dr. Mark: The biggest problem facing HS coaches today? 

Coach Hendrix: I believe that the biggest problem facing High school coaches today is a combination of AAU, parents/handlers, some skill guys and the limited amount of resources and funds.  Parents have become the biggest thorn in the side of the high school coach.  Parents have a different lens and feel like every coach needs to cater to their child.  A coach’s job is to do whats best for the group, not one individual.  Parents and players often believe that they are better than they are.  This isn’t a problem unless a parent of a player believe that the coach doesn’t value their skill set.  A player that believes that his coach should let him shoot more three pointers, but is shooting 28%, is a problem.  A parent that says a coach isn’t using his son right is a problem as well.  Players need to understand, you are your skill set, and your production.  If you are shooting in the 20’s from 3, any coach in their right mind will limit your ability to continue to shoot from behind the arc, not because he doesn’t care for the play, but because it’s whats best for the team, and more than likely the player.  I see dad’s coaching from the sideline which is my biggest pet peeve.  The problem with this is, it can confuse the kid, but more importantly, it could directly contradict what I work on daily in practice.  It could contradict the play I just drew up coming out of a huddle, and we need a basket because we are down two points.  Parents should be there to support the coach, and cheer on their child along with his or her teammates, PERIOD.

I have already addressed High school coaches having to break the bad habits of the kids coming back from playing AAU.  They also have to change the mindset as well.  AAU is about showcasing, and less about winning.  The high school season is about winning first, and then showcasing your talents within the framework of a team.  There is some reprogramming that needs to be done, and I have seen coaches not have success to the detriment of the team and the season.  It can be very frustrating.  It makes players difficult to coach when they do not put the team ahead of their own personal agenda, and on top of that you have the parents reinforcing this selfish mindset.  It can tear a team apart.  I have seen it happen.

We all know high school coaches put in countless hours for very little compensation.  There are some coaches that have the passion to push through this and still strive for greatness.  But who can blame a coach who is only receiving a $1200 stipend for 5 months of work for just making it through a season and not giving it his all.  It is a thankless job unless you are winning big, and you have to deal with ungrateful kids who give you attitude, and parents who think you are the scum of the earth because you don’t play their 5’5 son 32 minutes per night.  I have seen coaches get burned out, run off by parents, and frankly quit mentally mid season because of the factors I mentioned previously.  It can be very difficult to power through these things and bring it every day.

 

Dr. Mark: What does the future hold for you in the basketball arena?

Coach Hendrix: I feel like I have a wealth of knowledge, and I see myself educating young people in many ways.  I believe one day that I will be a division 1 Head Coach.  I believe that I will also travel around the country, and maybe even the globe speaking to young people  about what this game has meant to me, how to achieve their goals, and motivating them to be the best human beings that they can possibly be.  I see my self motivating young athletes to achieve 4.0’s and seek higher education beyond their Bachelors degree.  I believe I will be a household name among coaches. I truly believe that I have the basketball acumen, and the drive to become one of the great coaches this game has ever seen and I will not stop until I achieve my goal.  Everyday I strive to unlock my genius, which I believe to be coaching and educating people on the game of basketball. Whether they are young athletes, or coaches.  I want to share my gift with the world.

 

 

Damany Hendrix is currently the varsity head basketball coach for the Justin-Siena Braves.  He graduated from Vallejo High in 1998 and was an All-Monticello Empire League player. After high school, Hendrix accepted a scholarship to play for Gonzaga University. At Gonzaga he redshirted as a freshman, then transferred to Junior College, where he was the conference MVP and an All-State selection.  Hendrix completed his collegiate basketball career at Lamar University where he was selected All-Southland Conference, twice.

 

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