Interview With LaDontae Henton's Coach

A few weeks ago, Providence doubled the size of its 2011 class when 6-foot-6, 220-pound small forward LaDontae Henton committed to the Friars. A star at Lansing Eastern (MI), Henton originally signed with Dayton, but reopened his recruitment when Brian Gregory left for Georgia Tech, and he is now headed to PC.

Rod Watts coached Henton for the past four years both in high school ball and on the AAU circuit with the Michigan Mustangs. caught up with coach Watts to discuss Henton and his commitment to the Providence program.

"Well, of course you know the story where Dayton had hired a new coach and he wanted to open up his recruiting and he thought it was only fair that [new Dayton head] coach [Archie] Miller recruited him just so that he felt as though he would be, would get the same type of love that coach Gregory was giving him," Watts said of how Henton selected Providence. "So, he opened the recruiting up and [Providence assistant] coach [Bob] Simon, who we have a relationship with and has some Michigan ties, had called and let us know that there was some interest there.

"The two guys that hosted him on the visit, he made a connection with, and even more important from my standpoint, he made a good connection with coach Cooley," Watts continued. "Coach Cooley is a really . . . down to earth guy and I think that's what [helped him pick] Providence because he was set to visit Penn State the next weekend and NC State the following weekend. And he got back and we talked about it and I think it was Tuesday and he said he wanted to make the commitment and I asked him to think about it overnight and I think it was Wednesday and we sat down after school and he said he wanted to be a Friar."

Watts said that a number of schools were involved with Henton the second time around and Providence was not the only school that got a visit.

"Iowa State is a school that he visited other than Providence," Watts said. "Penn State and NC State were the other schools he was going to visit. He had considered USF, South Florida. Who else was there? Nebraska, and there were quite a few schools around here that expressed a lot of interest in him."

Noticeably absent from that list is Dayton, the school that Henton was at one point all set to attend.

"No, [it was not an option] because Dayton didn't really show an interest the second time around," Watts said. "We talked with Coach Miller and coach Miller seemed to be cool with it, but they really didn't—he really didn't seem to pursue him, but I know coach Miller had a lot on his plate at the time because he had just got them job and he had as staff that he was still trying to assemble. Maybe he felt as though since he was backing out, he really didn't have a chance with him, but I think he had a chance because of the relationships [Henton had] with the players down there, but I guess for whatever reason, coach Miller decided not to continue to pursue him."

Another school that Watts did not mention was Georgia Tech, which hired Gregory away from Dayton.

"I don't think LaDontae was considered for Georgia Tech," Watts said. "It's a situation where you have to—you can't recruit the school, the school has to recruit you. We never got a call from anybody on Georgia Tech's staff, so as far as we were concerned Georgia Tech wasn't an option. It wasn't our job to call Georgia Tech to see if they had a scholarship."

Coach Watts said that it was a difficult time for Henton when Gregory left for the head coaching job at Georgia Tech and not just because of the coaching change.

"Well, it was really tough for him because he had developed a relationship with Day from them recruiting him as a freshman. He had dev a strong relationship with them, so once he had made that commitment last summer, once he had made that commitment he was all in," Watts said. "The toughest part was hearing it through a media source and not hearing it through coach Gregory. That was the toughest part because he had a lot of respect [and] he had really felt good about playing for coach Gregory.

"He didn't win the Mr. Basketball [award] and a lot of people across the state felt he was the best player in the state," Watts added. "Not winning Mr. Basketball and us not going all the way to the state championship, all that happening in seven days weighed really heavily on him. We just knew that something good was gonna happen to him . . . and we're just thankful for Providence hiring coach Cooley and coach Cooley hiring his staff and the staff reaching out to us and taking a visit out there."

Watts, who accompanied Henton on his visit to Providence, said that his star player will be at the Big East school for the second summer session.

"I think he's gonna fit in well at the wing position," Watts said of what spot he sees Henton playing. "I think he's gonna do well at the wing because he's developed a perimeter game all during AAU season last year and even some during the high school season. He was a kid that would guard anybody from a point guard to a four-man, and then of course during the high school season he was someone who could guard anybody from the one to the five. Of course, he has room to improve and college is a different level than high school . . . but like coach Cooley says, he's a mismatch problem . . . If he's got a smaller guy on him, [he can] put him down in the post. If he's got a bigger guy on him, he can stretch it out."

Asked what he feels the strongest point of Henton's game is, coach Watts replied, "His length, his length and though he's 6'6 he's got maybe a 6'10 wingspan. His rebounding, [also] his rebounding. He rebounds as well as anybody that's played for me, and Draymond Green from Michigan State played for me and he was a monster on the boards and Goran Suton played for me as well, and he's rebounded just about as well as anybody. He has a great nose for the ball, he's an unselfish player, and he scores in bunches, that's why they call him ‘Buckets.'"

As Watts mentioned, Henton has work to do on his game. What is the number one thing that he feels the soon-to-be Friar has to improve on?

"He's gonna have to improve his footwork," Watts said. "The Big East, everybody knows, this past season was the best conference in the country and although they're losing some players, [it] is gonna be tough again next year. And coming from high school where he might be playing against a senior one night and a junior the next night, so his footwork is gonna be important. If he can improve his footwork . . . [and] his ball-handling [that will be important]. He's a student of the game, he's never content with where he's at. Coach Cooley knows, I know, that he's gonna improve in all facets of his game."

When asked who he would compare Henton's game to, coach Watts listed a couple of fantastic players.

"I don't know [Pause] he's probably—some have compared him to Walter Berry and I can see that comparison," Watts said. "I'd say, some have compared him like Amar'e Stoudemire and I think he's more—oh boy, you know . . . once you label a guy [the player will] almost feel that they have to play to that level or emulate that guy."

Watts went on to discuss Henton's specific style of play and what he brings to the table when he steps on the court.

"His style of play is a wing that rebounds well, so I guess if you can think of a wing who rebounds it real well and just works hard, whether it's pro, college, or w/e, that's who LaDontae is," Watts said. "He's a guy who's gonna go hard, gonna work to score, work to defend, work to win."

The Providence staff did not specifically say what Henton's role will be when he joins the team, but Watts knows that the Great Lakes State standout will work hard no matter what.

"No, that's something that LaDontae—he's not immune to hard work," Watts said. "LaDontae knows what hard work is about and I'm sure that's what coach Cooley is going to require, that's what coach Cooley is going to expect of LaDontae and the rest of the players in the program. Once the guys lace them up and get up and down the floor the chips will be out there and it will be up to coach Cooley and his staff to decide where they'll play . . . I just think coach Cooley's style at the offensive end and the defensive end—I think coach Cooley has a great style and I think it suits LaDontae and it probably suits him even better than Dayton."

Watts provided some high praise for Ed Cooley and his staff, who are in their first year at Providence.

"I just think that opening up [his] recruiting was truly a blessing [for LaDontae] because I think coach Cooley is the right coach for him," Watts said. "I think that coach Cooley and his staff are the right guys to develop LaDontae into the man that he's going to be. I like coach Cooley and his staff. I like their morals, I like what they stand for and I think [LaDontae is] not done developing . . . I think when he's done people in Michigan, people here in Lansing, they will be very proud to have seen LaDontae play . . . [and] to have seen his development from a high school kid to a college young man."

Led by Henton, Watts' Lansing Eastern team went 18-6 this past season and advanced to the regional finals of the state tournament. Watts said that Henton averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds en route to finishing second in Mr. Basketball voting.

"He had a very good high school career," Watts said of Henton. "He finished in the top five in rebounding in Michigan high school basketball history. He had 2,000 points. He had a real good HS career. So he'll—some of the people around here, writers, think he's probably one of the top 10 guys to play in the state of Michigan, which I think is pretty good."

It certainly seems that Rod Watts is quite high on his latest star player and if LaDontae Henton is as good as advertised, Providence fans will likely feel the same way.

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