By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Gary Henderson, long considered one of the nation’s top pitching instructors, enters his fourth season as the head baseball coach at the University of Kentucky. Henderson, who as both a head coach and an associate head coach helped lead the Wildcats to their most successful stretch in program history, has helped transform his program into a perennial contender.
Henderson sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Saturday following one of his team’s fall scrimmages to discuss how the fall is going, what he is looking forward to about the upcoming season and a host of other topics in this Q&A.
SEC Digital Network: How has the fall been going and, as a coach, what do you hope to get accomplished during your fall season?
“The fall has been going great. The things you hope to get accomplished are getting your kids comfortable, improving their skills to get them aggressive and getting them to come together as a team. You really want to get that feeling that you’ve got a sense of team and they’re getting better.”
SEC Digital Network: How much to you work on trying to fill certain positions during the fall and how much competition have you seen from your team in that regard?
“I think we’ve got a lot of competition. That’s one of the fun things about the fall is that you have real competition and, this particular year, we’ve got plenty of it. We’ve got some returning guys that played well for us, but at the same time we have a lot of positions open. That part has been really exciting. We have good competition up the middle, we have good competition in the outfield and tremendous competition going on right now on the mound to see who is going to jump into those weekend roles in the first eight or 10 spots. It has been fun.”
SEC Digital Network: How much does it help your team personally and how much of an opportunity does it present that you are playing in such a strong conference that has produced the last three national champions?
“I think that’s the part that makes it fun and you know what to expect. I think there is a tremendous amount of pride in the league amongst the players and amongst the coaches. You know that if you play well in our league that you are among the best baseball teams in the country every year.”
SEC Digital Network: You have a few guys on your team who have experienced quite a bit of success in summer league this past summer, including the Cape Cod League. How much does the experience that your guys bring back from that help them and help your team?
“It can help a lot. I don’t know that you always know that or know what is going to happen from that. For us, specifically, when we had five or six guys make the all-star league teams over the course of the summer, I think anytime they have that success that they can draw upon, it helps them down the road. The better the league, the more confidence that they should bring with them. When they come back as better players, more confident players and more skilled players, I think it helps the team, but it really helps those kids when they go through their next tough spot.”
SEC Digital Network: What do you believe your strengths of your team this upcoming year?
“I think it’s early, but I’m really hopeful that infield defense and depth on the mound are going to be some things that we can rely on. We’re going to hit again, that part’s pretty clear. We knew that coming in that we were going to have another good offensive club. How good, you don’t know; just exactly how well balanced you’re going to be, you don’t know, because some of the younger guys have got to prove it first. We’ll be another good offensive club, as are most clubs in our league and then it comes down to how well you play infield defense and how much pitching depth you have. It always comes down to that.”
SEC Digital Network: What do you feel are the unique strengths of the University of Kentucky that benefit your baseball program?
“Kids love to go to school here. Lexington is a great town; we would argue that it’s the best town in the league and there are some people that would agree with us. It’s a great place to go to school. The academic experience that our kids have here on campus is second to none. We love the town. [Athletics director] Mitch’s [Barnhart] commitment to an overall department is fantastic and there is a tremendous sense of community and a tremendous sense of being a Wildcat on campus.”