It didn't take long for Henrickson's ten Jayhawk players to buy into the new coaching style. With everybody on board and excited for the upcoming season, KU fans should be in for treat. There's no doubt Kansas will have great leadership on the sidelines this year, but another important attribute of Henrickson's first team will be their on-the-court leadership. With the players adapting to a new coaching style and the many adjustments that come with a change atop the program, Kansas is lucky to have three great senior leaders to help usher in the new basketball era.
Blair Waltz and Aquanita Burras will all be counted upon heavily this year to be extensions of their new head coach while out on the floor. Each member of the trio brings their own unique qualities to the table that will help get Henrickson's program up and rolling. In the final days leading up to the start of the preseason, the Jayhawks only four-year senior, Blair Waltz, sat down with Jayhawk Illustrated to talk about the year ahead, KU's new coaching staff and her job as a senior leader at Kansas.
The fun for Waltz and the Jayhawks began on November 9th, when Kansas opened up their exhibition schedule with a win over Fort Hays State at Allen Fieldhouse. The regular season gets underway on Sunday as the Jayhawks take on Texas-Arlington at 1 pm at Allen Fieldhouse.
*** This interview originally published in the November issue of Jayhawk Illustrated magazine.***
Jayhawk Illustrated: What's this off-season been like under a new coaching staff and how much are you looking forward to the year ahead?
Blaire Waltz: It's going to be really, really fun. That's the first and foremost thing I'm excited about. It's going to be a blast this year. It's just a lot different. We have worked so hard in the preseason already. It's just a totally new attitude. I really feel that our team is a class act. People will be very, very proud of the effort and the attitude that we put on the court every single game.
The coaching system and the coaches are just awesome. All the assistant coaches are thirty and younger. It's really nice because they know what's going on in our lives. They know what school brings and all that stress. It's just pretty awesome.
JI: How did they win you over?
BW: It's because it's a clean slate. They don't know anything about any of us and all they demand is that we give one hundred percent every single day. They won't settle for anything less than that. We're playing for positions right now. We have to go out and have something to prove every single day going out on the court. Because again, they don't know who we are, they don't know where our game is like or anything like that. I think that's the biggest thing. We're a lot more disciplined -- a lot more disciplined. We just really are focusing on the little things and I think that's what's going to make us even better.
Plus, the other thing that won me over is that they, honest to God, care about us as people more than anything. You know, you can sit here and talk about how KU has a family atmosphere in the athletic department, which is very, very true. But I'm am very, very confident in saying that our basketball team is a family and all of our coaches treat it like that. I think that is probably the biggest impact they've had on me. I really, really think that we are a family.
JI: In recent years KU sports fans have watched senior athletes in football and baseball lay the groundwork for future success in the first seasons of Mark Mangino and Ritch Price's coaching tenures. There was success for them to enjoy, but they knew throughout the whole process that they would not be around to truly taste the fruits of the labors when the good times really got going. Do you think about that at all and how would you describe your mindset heading into your first and last season as a player on Bonnie Henrickson's team?
BW: No doubt, I would love to be able to play a couple of more years under Coach Henrickson, but it's my time. This is my fourth year. I've given everything I can to the program and I'm just happy that I get this one year with her, instead of graduating earlier or anything like that. The thing I always think about is the Kansas women's basketball team will be a Top 25 team in the next three or four years. I have no doubt about that.
Four or five years from now when I tell people that I played for KU basketball, they're not going to remember that we went 0-16 in the conference. They're not going to remember that we placed last in the Big 12. They're going to be like, "Oh wow, that's a Top 25 program." So, it's really exciting and I can't wait to come watch them play. You know, I'm just so excited for the girls, especially for the freshman because they're just going to have so much success over the next four years.
JI: Now that you're a senior you get to take on a serious leadership role on this team. Have you embraced that role? How do you lead?
BW: It's all about working hard. The best thing is that since we only have ten people everyone wants to give it all they've got. No one is going to take anything less than that. For once, we all have that attitude and that one common goal in mind. I think that's the most exciting thing – that I can lead and I can push people all I want but in the end, we're all in one, together. Definitely as a senior, I just think that every day I should lead by example and just push everyone to work as hard as they can. Everyone has been responding so my job is very, very easy.
JI: If we consider a national championship in Coach Henrickson's first year to be out of the realm of possibility, what would be the perfect, storybook ending for your career?
BW: The storybook ending would be to finish in the top half of the Big 12. Maybe come out, upset a couple of teams, win the Big 12 Tournament and go to the "Big Dance." That's all I want. Again, I just want our team to be successful and most importantly, I just want to have fun This is my last year and this will probably be the last time I ever play basketball again, so I just want to have fun.
This article was originally published in the November issue of Jayhawk Illustrated magazine. Reprinted with permission.