Column: SFA senior says new KU women’s coach discourages ‘robots’

Brandon Schneider visits with reporters after his introduction Tuesday, April 21, 2015 as the new head coach of the KU women's basketball team.

Most coaches, by nature, are control freaks: “Go here. Don’t go there. Do this. Don’t do that.” Almost to a man, coaches who have worked with male and female basketball players say that women follow instruction better.

New Kansas University women’s basketball coach Brandon Schneider said it Tuesday at his colorful introductory news conference. I often have thought following instruction too closely can stunt an individual’s creativity and overall development.

One play in particular stands out in my mind as having shown that detrimental impact on an athlete. It came in the WNIT final at Allen Fieldhouse, when a Kansas guard turned to look at the play call from coach Bonnie Henrickson. An alert South Florida player stripped the ball from the KU guard and took it in for a layup.

That’s why I was so encouraged during a phone conversation with Stephen F. Austin senior Tierany Henderson to hear her talk about Schneider’s game-coaching style.

“I feel like he does his coaching in practice, so that when we get in the game we know what to do,” Henderson said. “Sometimes during a game, if one of us looks at him when we’re on offense, he’ll say, ‘Don’t look at me. Players make plays. I don’t want you to be robots.'”

The women’s game too often has a robotic feel to it, as if every move is scripted by the coach. It’s no way to get the best out of skilled scorers, who flourish when they read the situation and make creative decisions based on what they see and what they feel.

“We always looked to run,” Henderson said. “And if that wasn’t there, we had a structure, but out of that you can make plays. He didn’t micromanage us. He gave us freedom. He has that trust to know that we’re going to make it happen when it comes down to it.”

Stephen F. Austin freshman Charisma Alexander took the news of her coach’s departure hard.

“It was heartbreaking because he always said he was like our father, and he was like a father figure to me,” Alexander said. “He respected us on and off the court. He made working hard enjoyable. But I’m excited for him, very happy for him, especially since he has a history in Kansas.”

At Emporia State, Schneider won an NCAA Div. II national title in 2010. At Stephen F. Austin, he won Southland Conference titles the past two seasons. Now he’ll be battling against some of the best women’s college basketball coaches in the nation. Will he succeed?

“You have to look at the pattern,” Alexander said. “Coach Brandon has been successful everywhere he’s been. Given time to establish an environment, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be successful at Kansas.”

Alexander has charisma that extends through the phone lines from Nacogdoches, Texas. She’s an expert on the topic. Does Schneider have it?

“Coach Brandon, he’s honestly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met,” Alexander said. “Once you know him, he’s outgoing and hilarious, so I would give him that, yes.”

Former Lawrence High basketball star Haley Parker, a born winner of a point guard, got to know Schneider when he recruited her to Emporia State, but by the time she started classes, he was in his first year at Stephen F. Austin.

“He recruited me since junior high,” said Parker, who lives in Lawrence and works as an emergency-room nurse at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka.

“He was great,” Parker said of Schneider as a recruiter. “He went to several of my games during the summertime and during the school year, and he would call me every once in a while to check in. He would ask how I was doing at school, what I like to do for fun. He was really easy to talk to and seemed like he cared a lot about his players.”

Henderson painted a similar picture of her recruitment and was able to experience whether playing for him was what she envisioned when he was recruiting her.

“Everything and more,” she said. “He really takes care of his athletes. And when we get a transfer who comes in, they’ll always say, ‘Man, our coach didn’t do that for us.’ He for sure cares about us on and off the court, which is awesome.”

On the topic of transfers, Henderson said that in her four years, just one player transferred from Stephen F. Austin. That says a great deal for a coach who works his players extremely hard.

Asked to name Schneider’s greatest strength, Henderson gave a thoughtful answer.

“Knowing his players’ personalities,” she said. “He’s really good at reading people and knowing what different players respond to. Like me, I don’t like to be yelled at. I don’t respond to that. So he’ll come up to me and talk to me to make his point, and I appreciate that. Some other players, he’ll scream at them, get them angry to motivate them because he knows that will make them play better. Every player is not going to respond the same way to how you come at them.”

Schneider has not assembled his staff yet, but it’s safe to assume one former assistant coach of his won’t be on it. The former Ali Sprague played for Schneider, worked for him as an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator and eventually changed her name to Ali Schneider. Brandon and Ali Schneider passed along athletic genes to their sons, Cole, 5, and Cash, 3. They won’t be in high school for a long while, but that won’t stop backers of Lawrence’s two high schools from trying to persuade the Schneiders to move either north or south of the 15th Street dividing line. It’s never too early to recruit.