Abrahamson-Henderson wants Georgia women’s basketball back in title hunt

Abrahamson-Henderson grew into her own sapling with her first head coaching stint leading the Missouri State women’s basketball program. From 2002 to 2007, the Lady Bears appeared in three NCAA tournaments and won two conference titles and a WNIT championship.

A hugely successful run at Albany that included five straight NCAA tournament bids landed Abrahamson-Henderson in Central Florida. There, she executed one of the great turnovers in women’s basketball, leading the Knights to the program’s first American Athletic Conference title and a school-record winning 26-4 mark last season.

It all brought her back to Georgia all the way. For the UGA athletic administration, Abrahamson-Henderson was a quick and obvious solution to Joni Taylor’s surprise decision to join Texas A&M after last season.

“Obviously I loved it at UCF; I never wanted to leave,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “But I never thought Joni was going to leave. Ever. Then it opened up, and I was like, ‘Oh my!’ It was weird and it was fast.

So there she sat last week, in the office most recently occupied by Taylor but only Landers before that. One of Abrahamson-Henderson’s most prized new possessions is the Georgia No. 3 jersey the school gave her the day she was named head coach. The “3” symbolizes her as the third head coach in program history.

“Isn’t that wild? she says.

For now, the jersey is still folded on a shelf. Eventually it will be framed, but there has not yet been time to do such things.

Abrahamson-Henderson has been in a relative sprint since his introductory press conference on March 26. There has been a lot to do, and there is still a lot to do.

It’s only with the basketball program. Never mind the real challenges of two girls finishing school in Orlando, selling a house and finding another in Athens, moving into schools, and more. In between was building a staff (she pretty much kept the same from top to bottom), recruiting, a signing period, managing the outbound and inbound transfer portal, running a few camps and the planning and execution of off-season training.

The 2022-23 Lady Bulldogs have now been assembled and train together at the training complex. Finally, it is about what needs to happen on the ground.

“It has more to do with the portal,” Abrahamson-Henderson said of the blistering pace. “It’s a huge change, and it forces all college coaches to adapt. That’s why we’ve all been busy. It’s football, basketball, all sports. Normally you’re not so busy at this time of year.

Between the players who chose to stay at UGA, those who came from UCF and those who came from afar, it looks like the Lady Bulldogs will once again be a force to be reckoned with. Their coach seems to have assembled a post-oriented team with a good mix of experience, skill and athletic ability.

Where Abrahamson-Henderson would love to shine is not just getting Georgia into the playoffs, but competing for championships, both in the regular season and beyond. This is where the Lady Bulldogs lagged under Taylor.

After a 26-7 campaign that ended abruptly in a second-round loss at the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Georgia enjoyed a string of quick exits in the “Big Dance.” The Lady Bulldogs won the SEC Tournament title in 2021 but couldn’t get past South Carolina in the championship game. Then they lost to Duke in the second round of the NCAA.

Georgia’s presence in the NCAA Tournament under Taylor was nice, but otherwise the Lady Bulldogs were just an indistinguishable face in the SEC crowd that populates every playoff.

Abrahamson-Henderson’s attitude to what constitutes success is different. Never mind all those runs his teams made playing Georgia and Iowa. It was the battles fought and the championships won in the second-tier conferences where she coached that her competitive spirit was formed.

“My point of view is different from that of a lot of coaches,” she said. “When I was at Albany, we had to win everything to get in. It’s the pressure. … Same thing at UCF. We could have two teams. It was about conference championships. In the SEC, you could have seven, eight, nine teams. So my mentality is a bit different.

“It’ll never be, ‘OK, let’s just be No. 8!'”

His teams reflected that sentiment. In 17 seasons as head coach, Abrahamson-Henderson compiled a record of 372-157 (.703), averaged 22 wins per season, won seven regular season titles, nine conference tournament crowns and earned 11 NCAA berths (14 total postseason deals). ).

Does Georgia have the means to sustain such a pace this year? Abrahamson-Henderson can’t be sure, of course. But she loves the team she has assembled in a short time.

The Bulldogs’ 15-man roster is complete. It includes five players who were already in Georgia (Zoesha Smith, Chloe Chapman, Jordan Isaacs, Malury Bates and Javyn Nicholson), three UCF transfers (Diamond Battles, Brittney Smith and Alisha Lewis), transfer from Texas Audrey Warren, transfer from West Virginia Kari Niblack, Vanderbilt transfers De’Mauri Flournoy, and three highly touted freshman signers (Stefanie Ingram, Fatima Diakhate and Amiya Evans).

It also includes a highly recruited prospect from Orlando’s top 50. This 6ft 3in guard is named Savannah Henderson and happens to be the eldest daughter of Mike and Katie Henderson.

That’s new, even for the grizzled veteran that is the 55-year-old Bulldogs coach.

“I was shocked that she wanted to come here,” Abrahamson-Henderson said of her daughter. “She’s a smart kid, and I told her straight away that we were going to recruit her in exactly the same way as we do everyone else. The (assistant) coaches called her, we stopped her to come to the office like she always had. We did a home visit presentation with her. I was home in a different room and she and dad were in another room with our coaches and listened to what was going on. they had to say. …

“She made a very good and smart decision. And God just blessed us with a tall, long, athletic guard who can play at this level.

This is another beautiful circle in which Savannah Henderson began her college career in the same place as her mother. Now the task is to bring the program back to where it was before.

Long before being “Coach Abe”, she played in Georgia with Katrina McClain, Barbara Bootz, Lisa O’Connor and Teresa Edwards. The Bulldogs won the SEC championship in its first season and lost only seven games in two seasons. This is the standard she envisions for Georgian women’s basketball in the future.

“We’re looking for toughness, you know,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “Hard, competitive, hustling, diving on loose balls, these are the kids we’re looking for. We’re just putting the puzzle together. There’s been a lot of situational assessments for a long time. Now it’s gotta go to play. “

As for that “ABE-in-call-caps” thing, it’s just something the coach said she just rode with. She inherited it from her father, Lee Abrahamson, who played basketball at Coe College with eventual NBA championship coach Bill Fitch. His is a basketball family, which includes an uncle who played at Iowa State and another who played at Drake.

“They were all basketball jerks and everyone called them ‘ABE’, all in caps. ABE, ABE, ABE,” she said with a laugh. “It’s weird and I don’t know why.”

Its good. The goal now is for “Coach ABE” to make a name for itself in Georgia.

Comments are closed.