LARAMIE — If KC Henry checks into a game, it’s usually not a good sign for Wyoming.
It’s a good thing for Henry, a walk-on who’s been suiting up for the Cowboys for less than two months. Henry was added to the roster as an emergency option in case Wyoming’s numbers get even lower amid a 5-16 season that’s been affected by mass roster attrition, so opportunities to log even a minute or two are rare.
It’s only happened in the waning moments of blowouts the Cowboys have been on the wrong end of, which is why it’d be OK with Henry if he doesn’t see the court again this season.
“We’ve kind of been struggling a little bit,” Henry said.
He’s perfectly content with his newfound role.
That’s because Henry’s ultimate goal is to be a college head coach, which is why he got involved with the Cowboys’ program in the first place. Henry, a redshirt sophomore who’s working toward a degree in kinesiology and health promotion, began the season as a student manager for the Cowboys — a job that included everything from setting up cones for practice and chasing down rebounds during shooting drills to filling up coolers and water bottles for players he now calls teammates.
“He came in wanting to be a coach, and I said, ‘How about being a manager for us?’” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “He said, ‘No problem.’ He’s out there, he’s up in the office, he’s with (director of player development) Rob (Watsabaugh), and sometimes we break down film. He’s doing whatever.”
Then came the hits.
Senior forward Jordan Naughton sustained a partially torn knee ligament in the preseason that sidelined him for seven weeks. Fellow forward Austin Mueller tore his ACL during an early December practice before back spasms, a nerve injury and a sprained knee eventually forced Hunter Maldonado, Wyoming’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, to shut down his season.
Add senior point guard Ny Redding’s indefinite suspension related to his involvement in an incident at a downtown Laramie bar and junior college transfer Lwal Dung’s decision to leave the team, and Wyoming was down five members of its rotation by mid-December.
Before the team left for El Paso, Texas, to play in the Sun Bowl Invitational a few days later, coaches came to Henry with the idea of dressing out to help with the numbers.
“They just asked me if I’d be willing to become eligible and suit up for games and contribute a little bit more than I was used to as a student manager,” Henry said. “I think that was just a unique opportunity.”
It’s not the first time Henry has been presented with one of those.
Henry was an all-state player at Lingle-Fort Laramie High School, but being a 6-foot guard with marginal athleticism forced him to quickly face the realization that his playing days weren’t likely to extend past the prep level. After graduating in 2016, he enrolled at Eastern Wyoming College, a junior college in Torrington, and got a part-time job at the school’s fitness center working for director Tim Moser, who doubled as the Lancers’ men’s basketball coach.
Moser informed Henry that women’s basketball coach Tom Andersen was looking to hire an assistant. Henry remembered Andersen’s search lingering nearly all the way up to the start of the 2016-17 season.
With time running out, Andersen gave Henry his first college coaching job less than a year removed from high school. Henry was an assistant at Eastern Wyoming for two seasons, helping lead the Lancers to a school-record 22 wins in his first year on Andersen’s staff.
“The thing about juco schools is that it’s not really top-notch money, so it’s kind of hard to get families to move across the country to a small town, especially in Wyoming,” Henry said. “So I was very fortunate for the opportunity and grateful for the opportunity Tom had gave me.”
But Henry wanted to break in at the Division I level while still in college. With Andersen’s help, Henry got in contact with Watsabaugh, which led to Henry helping work some of Wyoming’s camps last summer and eventually being brought on as a manager.
Henry said it wasn’t a difficult decision to leave his paid position at Eastern Wyoming. He needed the experience more than the money.
“It’s been a dream of mine to be a collegiate basketball coach someday, especially at the NCAA level,” Henry said. “Being a coach at Eastern Wyoming kind of solidified my love for the game more. I learned a lot, and coming here there was no hesitation because I knew that this is the NCAA and that’s the juco level.”
Now he’s pulling double duty. Henry occasionally jumps in on the Cowboys’ scout team during practice, but there’s still equipment to set up and rebounds to grab. During games, he’ll even retrieve chairs for his teammates during timeouts and pass out water bottles on the bench.
“He’s an example for our guys,” said Edwards, who added former Pine Bluffs standout Haize Fornstrom as a second walk-on in January. “That’s removing your pride a little bit and helping what needs to be helped. When we came to him with the idea, he didn’t hesitate. It wasn’t, ‘Coach, I’m not sure.’ It was, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’”
Said freshman forward Hunter Thompson, “It’s always tough to ask a kid to still do all the manager jobs and then still be able to practice. I think he’s doing a good job of finding that balance to encourage us but also not let us walk all over him, I guess.”
Henry has gotten in a couple games, something he didn’t necessarily expect when he started dressing out. Edwards put him in for the last 2 minutes of Wyoming’s 30-point loss at San Diego State on Jan. 8. Henry also played the final minute of New Mexico’s 83-53 win on Jan. 19.
It might have been meaningless garbage time for the Cowboys, but it was anything but for Henry.
“I never really dreamed about playing DI, so just having that opportunity to put on a University of Wyoming jersey and be able to support and represent the University of Wyoming has been great, especially since I’m from Wyoming and I’ve always been a University of Wyoming fan,” he said. “It was just a great opportunity, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Henry is on track to graduate from Wyoming in 2020. He then plans to pursue a master’s degree and hopes to take the next step toward his ultimate goal by catching on somewhere as a graduate assistant.
Until then, he’ll assist his current program. Whatever that entails.
“This team, we’re a family. I would do anything for family,” Henry said. “They’re my family, so I take care of them any way I can and help out any way I can.”