Q&A with Flower Mound Marcus Boys Basketball Coach Danny Henderson

March 7, 2011

Later this week, Flower Mound Marcus (37-1) will take the floor in Austin against Fort Bend Hightower in the Class 5A State Semifinals. Its not like reaching state is anything new as the Marauders are in the state capital for a second straight year. But last year's team wasn't expected to reach such heights but with most of his team returning for the 2010-11 season, head coach Danny Henderson and his players knew they had what it took to produce a pretty special season. Marcus advanced with a 46-38 win over Cedar Hill on Saturday in Fort Worth, a game where the Marauders scored the first 11 points. Marcus is led by a dynamic duo of Phil Forte and Marcus Smart and should they finish the job and win state, expect those two players to be front and center. Here's more from their head coach as they prepare for their second consecutive trip to state.

What is the mood around the program like right now?
Henderson: Everyone is thrilled. We were fortunate enough to make it last year. It was more of a novelty last year and kind of a pipe dream because we started three sophomores and all that stuff. But this year, it was more of a mission. It's just a great feeling of gratification right now having made it down there but the boys also have a real focus about them right now, about going out and being successful.

Talk about what you know about your next opponent, Fort Bend Hightower.
Henderson: We have five tapes on them right now and two more coming tomorrow. We stayed up most of the night last night watching tape. They're very athletic and they have quite possibly the best point guard we've seen this year. Then, they have a 6-5 kid named [Daniel] House that's just a phenomenal athlete and definitely a Division I player. They have lots of really athletic kids to go around those two.

Can you quantify how much Forte and Smart mean to your team?
Henderson: I don't think I can quantify it. When you see Marcus Smart play and Phil Forte, they're obviously great players but the thing that's unseen is their practice habits. They're just phenomenal leaders in practice. They come to work every day and they lead verbally and lead by example. They just refuse to allow the rest of the team to have a bad practice. You just can't put a price on that.

You guys have had several close wins in the playoffs to get this far. How much do you think that has strengthened your team's character as you move forward?
Henderson: Absolutely, it calls for poise in those situations. There were a couple of moments we lost our poise but yet, the kids huddled up out on the court and they regained their composure as a group. That just shows a lot of maturity and experience when they do that. Hopefully those moments will pay off this weekend.

What was the biggest thing your players took away from being in the 2010 state tournament?
Henderson: Just a sense of purpose about this year [was the biggest thing] Two or three of them have articles from last year's state tournament loss still up in their locker today. But we've never talked about it, the fact that they've got them up in their locker. They've been waiting for this moment for about 365 days. It definitely helps. I was fortunate enough to have a team go down there and win it in 1999 and then we went back in 2000. When we went back in 2000, the comfort level with the kids with just the whole week and the environment was obvious. They were very at ease and we were able to win it again in 2000. I expect the same sort of comfort level from my kids this time around.

Your team is built around great defense. Discuss.
Henderson: Anyone that's watched us play realizes that we do not play slow offensively. We fast break every time we catch the ball but because our system is built first and foremost on defense and discipline and the tight defense we play, the way our man-to-man system is designed, it typically takes other teams twice the number of passes to get off a good shot that they're normally accustomed to. Therefore, it's actually our defense that slows the game down. Our system starts with defense. There's no question about it. It's all about getting stops.

Daniel House is one of Hightower's best players. Talk about him.
Henderson: Well, he's a phenomenal talent. He's definitely a Division I player but it's just pure athleticism. He's off the charts. He's as good as we've seen this year. He's no easy task for anyone to contain. We'll stick to our defensive rules and do the best that we can.

When did you know that you had another special team on your hands?
Henderson: When we walked in the building the first day of school. Our three best players were sophomores last year and having them back [is huge]. We knew full well that we had a great chance to be at this time and place. The critical thing for us as a coaching staff and why I made it real clear to the kids is where we wanted to do this again, we weren't going to base our success on making it to Austin. We were going to base our success on working hard each and every day and loving each other. Then, if things fell into place, fantastic. We knew before school started that we had a chance to go back down there and win it all, so no surprises this year. It was a big surprise last year.

Did the whole Marcus Smart controversy bring you and your team even closer?
Henderson: Our kids knew the true story. It definitely pulled us together. It united this whole community. Everyone was behind us. People I didn't even realize had any affection toward our basketball program at all stepped forward and said that this is wrong and that we're behind you guys 100 percent. It galvanized everyone.