Coach’s chair: Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, University at Albany

Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson talks with Imani Tate on the sidelines. Photo by Bill Ziskin.
Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson talks with Imani Tate on the sidelines. Photo by Bill Ziskin.

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson is coaching her sixth season at the University at Albany, after serving as assistant coach, associate head coach and head coach at various other institutions:

2008-10, Indiana University, Associate Head Coach
2007-08, University of Washington, Assistant Coach
2002-07, Missouri State University, Head Coach (95-61)
2000-02, Michigan State University, Associate Head Coach
1994-00, Iowa State University, Assistant Coach
1992-94, University of Maine, Assistant Coach
1990-92, Duquesne University, Assistant Coach

Abrahamson-Henderson has guided the Great Danes to the NCAA Tournament first round each of the past four years, following an America East Tournament championship. She is a three-time conference coach of the year.

An Iowa native, Abrahamson-Henderson earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in education. She played at Georgia for two years before transferring to the University of Iowa. She and her husband have two daughters.

Sue Favor: What was it like playing for coaching greats Andy Landers and Vivian Stringer?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: I was blessed. There were a lot of great coaches when I was coming up, and it was hard to make decisions. I looked at Texas and Jody Conradt. I wanted to get away from home, but once I did, I missed my family. Playing for Andy Landers in 1985, the SEC was all about being tougher and stronger than your opponent. It was such a physical conference. I had played post in high school, but I had to move to the 3 because I could shoot and pass. Coaches back then were different, and they could coach us really hard.

With Vivian’s team, it was a family thing. She had her whole family around us always – her mom, sisters, cousins and other family members. Where Andy was vocal, she was a quiet storm. At Georgia I was used to his volume, and at Iowa I couldn’t hear her or see her. It was a different philosophy. I remember one practice, one of my teammates said, “Vivian’s yelling.” I was like, “that’s not yelling – I can’t even hear her.”

Those were the days when Sue Gunter was at LSU and Pat Summitt was at Tennessee. The Big Ten was coming around.

Sue Favor: You’ve worked for Joanne McCallie and Bill Fennelley. How did that shape your coaching philosophy?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: Bill is an X’s and O’s genius. I learned everything I know about offense from him, as well as time management, how to use the shot clock, and how to master out-of-bounds plays. I can coach kids up from where they start when they come to me. Joanne taught me a lot about the fan side, the business side. The way she does things is very businesslike.

Sue Favor: What drew you to Albany?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: My husband is from Brooklyn, and he went with me to MSU, Iowa State. When this job opened up we had two little girls, and I wanted my kids to be around some sort of family, and some diversity. I had coached in this league when I was with Joanne. I knew all the teams and I was very comfortable here.

Sue Favor: In 2013-2014 you lost a great senior class, as many coaches do, yet you picked up where you left off the next year. What is the secret to doing that?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: It’s how we train all the leaders and not just the seniors, so that the younger classes evolve nicely. From the moment they come here we have them looking people in the eyes and shaking hands. The freshmen have to call out plays. There is constant building, and no one is sitting and waiting for their turn. If a kid tells me she’s not a big talker, I tell her, I don’t know how you’re going to play. We have them call out screens, we have them read the scouting reports.

Sue Favor: You see a lot of point guards as assistant coaches, but you were a post player. Has that made you different from other coaches?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: I don’t know what makes me different; I have just had great tutelage. As you go through the student athlete process, you don’t know how much you’re taking in. I have never had the experience of losing; all I have played for, coached for and worked with have been winners. I’ve never learned anything bad. And all the teachers I’ve had, I can still call any of them if I ever need them.

Sue Favor: When did you first know you wanted to coach?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: I never wanted to coach – I just wanted to empower young women. My mother raised me to be strong, and I saw a lot of women lost, who weren’t proud of who they were or proud of being a woman. I want all of my players to be strong.

Sue Favor: What is the best thing about coaching?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: My favorite part is the X’s and O’s. When I’m on the floor it’s a chess match between me and the other coaches, and I love to pick apart what they do.

But also, Tara VanDerveer approached me and volunteered to mentor me a bit. That had never happened before. I felt so blessed.

Sue Favor: What’s a Coach Abe practice like?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: It depends on the time of year, but it’s very structured, time-managed and player-run. Players know what’s coming and how to run it; it’s like a machine running. Our practices are hard, and we go hard. We compete and keep score in every drill. We get 30 seconds for water.

Sue Favor: You have an emphasis on conditioning. What do you do for your own workout?

Katie Abrahamson-Henderson: We have a lovely strength and conditioning coach here at school, and I started lifting with her three times a week.

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