Woodling: KU women’s basketball in good hands with Henrickson

Media members, well-wishers and athletic department staffers poured Monday afternoon into Hadl Auditorium for their first look at Kansas University’s new women’s basketball coach.

“This is about the same size as the crowd at a KU women’s game,” one of the media-types quipped sarcastically as he looked around the room.

In truth, Kansas women’s basketball games lured more bodies than showed up Monday, but not that many more.

Over the years, women’s basketball on Mount Oread has been about as popular as a pop quiz, as anticipated as a root canal and as much of an occasion as waiting for a bus.

Some believe women’s basketball has suffered over the years in comparison to the tradition-rich men’s program.

That’s baloney, though. The real reason Kansas women’s basketball never has caught on is because the Jayhawks never captured the public’s imagination.

KU never went to the Final Four or ever came close.

In other words, the Jayhawks won, but not enough.

Marian Washington had numerous 20-plus-victory seasons during her three decades on Mount Oread, but she never was able to push the program to the stage where a women’s basketball ticket was a must-have item, where you had to be there or be square.

Take the 1991-1992 season, for example. That was a typical talented Washington team. It compiled a 25-6 record — 12-2 in the Big Eight — and yet drew an average of only 877 fans for 13 games in Allen Fieldhouse. Heck, the Jayhawks drew more fans than that in 2003-2004. KU’s fourth straight losing season attracted an average crowd of 1,248 — the lowest figure in the Big 12 Conference.

Now the question is whether Bonnie Henrickson can push the button that will make folks around here give a hoot about women’s basketball. I’m not talking about filling Allen Fieldhouse. That’s unrealistic. Luring 6,000 or 7,000 fans a night, however, is within reach. Heck, traditional power Texas had an average crowd of 7,200 last season.

Were you surprised KU athletic director Lew Perkins offered Henrickson more than a half-million dollars a year to come here from Virginia Tech? Moreover, did it stun you that Perkins agreed to pay another half-million bucks to buy out her contract?

It shouldn’t have. Perkins has consistently thrown money around like confetti during his quarter of a century as a university athletic director. Your next question is where Perkins will come up with the money. Don’t ask. He hasn’t had a department go bankrupt yet.

Perkins, incidentally, agreed to allow Henrickson to bring her entire Virginia Tech staff with her and to upgrade the women’s basketball offices which are woefully inadequate in this Title IX world. Hey, it’s only money.

Henrickson is the first major coaching hire in Perkins’ nine months at Kansas University and it’s clear that once he targeted Henrickson he was going to make her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Henrickson conceded as much, saying Perkins showed her “vision, commitment and resources.” I’m not sure if I would place those three necessities in that order because vision and commitment are one thing, but resources (aka money) make the world go round.

What kind of a person is Henrickson? She’s glib. She talks faster than Roy Williams. She doesn’t hem. She doesn’t haw. She sounds like she has never been uncertain about anything in her life.

Henrickson is 40 years old and unmarried but not, she stressed, without children.

“I have 15 every year,” she said with a smile. “Then I have three or four new ones every year. Sometimes my family has a hard time understanding that.”

I certainly don’t have a hard time understanding why Perkins picked Henrickson. If she doesn’t make Kansas University women’s basketball competitive within a short time, I’ll be surprised. And, from all indications, she possesses the work ethic, the charisma and the experience to take KU women’s basketball to unprecedented levels.