Everyone was on the way out the door in Brookings, South Dakota on Wednesday. T.J. Otzelberger departed to become UNLV’s next head coach, while his South Dakota State Jackrabbits were about to endure some heavy roster turnover — most notably the loss of the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer, Mike Daum.
But one man is staying at southeast South Dakota. His name is Eric Henderson.
Say hello the Jackrabbits’ new head coach.
Serving as associate head coach during Otzelberger’s three-year run, Henderson was elevated to lead the Jackrabbits on the same day it was announced that Otzelberger was leaving for the desert.
”Eric has been a big part of the success that we have had at South Dakota State,” athletic director Justin Sell said in a statement. “His energy and enthusiasm for the game, and for the student-athletes he coaches, are infectious. He is a tremendous teacher and no doubt is prepared to lead our men’s basketball program to continued success.”
Prior to joining the South Dakota State staff, Henderson, a graduate at Wayne State (Neb.), had never held an official title as a coach at a Division I school. He had previously served as an assistant at Wayne State, and he coached high school basketball at Burlington Catholic Central in Burlington, Wisconsin. There was also a stop at Wayne Community School, and stints at Iowa State as a graduate manager and learning specialist.
But his big break came when Otzelberger added him to the Jackrabbits’ staff. Now he’s the 22nd head coach in the program’s history, but only the third since Scott Nagy took over in 1995.
Here are a few question that loom for Henderson as he takes over:
1. What is he getting himself into?
A challenge, that’s for sure. A lot of familiar faces will depart, including Daum, Skyler Flatten, Tevin King and Brandon Key. North Dakota State and South Dakota State have traded Summit League championships this decade, and North Dakota State left Sioux Falls with the league tournament crown this year. So perhaps the pendulum is swinging back toward the Bison, and perhaps that swing will hasten with Otzelberger’s departure.
2. What happens with David Jenkins Jr.?
All the attention among Jackrabbit fans shifts to the team’s best player — a soon-to-be junior from Tacoma, Washington. There were whispers that Jenkins would follow Otzelberher wherever he landed, and a move out west would get Jenkins closer to home. Having already surpassed the 1,000-point mark with relative ease, retaining the scoring guard would be an absolute must if the Jackrabbits hope to enjoy success next season. So now it’s up to Jenkins to make a decision one way or another.
3. Was it a knee-jerk reaction to hire Henderson so quickly?
It seems like the Henderson hire was all about retaining someone who had a relationship with Jenkins. The hope would be to keep him for the next two seasons, and hopefully put enough talent around him to compete for a league championship.
4. What’s on the horizon for the Jackrabbits?
Perhaps some tough times; perhaps sustained success. It really could boil down to whatever Jenkins decides to do. There are eight other Summit League coaches hoping he leaves the league, that much is for sure. But even if he stays, he’ll have to immediately mesh with mostly soon-to-be sophomores, unless Henderson dips into the JUCO or grad-transfer ranks.