By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Earlier this week, UTSA coach Steve Henson delivered a poignant message on the importance of “Coaches vs. Cancer – Suits and Sneakers Week.”
It’s a week when basketball coaches nationwide join together to promote the importance of raising awareness and generating funds for research into the nature of a disease that still does not have a cure.
I have always admired the coaching fraternity for doing this.
But, somehow, the effort rings with a little more clarity for me going into tonight’s UTSA home game against the Tulane Green Wave.
In the past few years, cancer has taken so many people close to me, it’s been almost like a bad dream.
My mom. My friend, Ken Burmeister, the former head basketball coach at UTSA and the University of the Incarnate Word. Also, a few close allies from my days at the downtown newspaper.
All of that is why coach Henson’s message on video sort of slapped me out of my comfort zone and made me think.
“This week,” Henson said in his message, “I suit up for my dad. My father’s overcome several types of cancer in his lifetime, and he’s cancer-free today. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
On Tuesday afternoon, I asked the coach about the video. He responded by relating how the National Association of Basketball Coaches remains committed to the effort after 30 years.
“Suits and Sneakers weekend, it’s been a big deal for the NABC and Coaches vs. Cancer for years,” Henson said. “(We’ve) raised a lot of money, raised a lot of awareness. Covid affected it. Coaches stopped wearing suits during Covid, (and) a lot of coaches haven’t gone back to it.
“We just didn’t want to let it lose its significance, because it’s such an important cause. So the (UTSA) coaches will wear suits and ties with our sneakers and hopefully will give it as much media attention and social media attention as we can, and keep fighting for a cure.”
Henson’s dad is a special guy, by all estimations. Mike Henson was a longtime high school basketball coach in Kansas. He was also Steve Henson’s coach, at McPherson High School.
“He was a freshman coach when I was growing up,” the coach said. “As soon as he got out of college, he got the freshman coaching job. There was a legendary high school coach there at the time, Jay Frazier, and they had won a bunch of state championships.
“So, I grew up watching my dad coach the freshman team. Every single game. I’d walk from grade school to the junior high … The year that I became a freshman, he moved up to the JV spot, so I didn’t play for him as a freshman.
“He got the (varsity) job my sophomore year, so I played for him for three years.”
Henson noted that his father “enjoyed a ton of success,” but he added with a wry grin that, “I didn’t help him much.”
“He won three state titles or four state titles after I left. My brother (Brian) was a part of three of those,” Henson said. “(My dad) had a great, great career there. He’s in the Hall of Fame in Kansas. Just a really good coach.”
For the record, Mike Henson was inducted into the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009, the same year, incidentally, that Steve Henson went into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
After playing for his father, Steve starred four years at Kansas State and later played in the NBA. Henson has been UTSA’s head coach for eight seasons.
“The town I grew up in was a really good basketball town,” Henson said. “When we were growing up, we heard about the state championships. Coach Jay Frazier won three state titles in the ’70s. We’d see those guys around town.
“On Wednesday nights, we’d go to McPherson College and play pick up, and those guys would come in and just tear us up, talk trash. We had pretty good records my three years (at McPherson). We didn’t win it. But my dad and my brother, they both won a bunch of ’em.”
Asked about playing for his father in high school, Henson paused and said simply, “It was a dream come true for both of us.”
Mike Henson has been cancer-free for several years now, his son said.
Tonight, Steve will be thinking about him again prior to UTSA’s 7 p.m. tipoff against Tulane. Also, the coach of the Roadrunners, who also serves on the national council of Coaches vs. Cancer, will be reminding anyone who will listen to be more aware.
To get tested.
“One of the things that happened during Covid is, people stopped getting screened, and cancer rates skyrocketed,” Henson said.
“Now,” he added, “one of the big things we’ve talked about for the last few years, there’s a lot of people who need treatment that don’t have rides. Think about that. How can that be?
“The treatment is there but people aren’t getting it because rides aren’t there?”
At that, the coach arched his eyebrows. I could see the passion in his expression. I could sense his fervor for the cause. Maybe, after hearing from the coach, it’s time we all suited up.
Tulane at UTSA, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
UTSA at South Florida, Saturday, 3 p.m.
Tulane 12-6, 3-3
UTSA 7-12, 1-5
Forward Kevin Cross and guards Jaylen Forbes and Sion James will lead Tulane into tonight’s game at the Convocation Center.
James had 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists Sunday in an 81-79 victory over No. 10 Memphis. In Tulane’s first victory over a top ten program since 1983, Cross had 21 points for his eighth 20-point game of the season. The Green Wave is coached by Ron Hunter, in his fifth year at the helm.
UTSA is coming off a 112-103 home loss in overtime Sunday against the 23rd-ranked Florida Atlantic University Owls. Of the Roadrunners’ four straight losses, two have come to nationally-ranked teams in overtime. The other was a 107-101 setback at then 13th-ranked Memphis on Jan. 10.
Against FAU, UTSA guard Jordan Ivy-Curry lit it up for a career-high 38 points. UTSA leads the American Athletic Conference in threes per game (10) and attempts per game (29.1). The Roadrunners rank 10th in the nation in long-distance attempts and 16th in makes.