Coach’s homecoming time to build on Panther Pride

By Wayne Bryan Published June 1, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Dexter Hendrix guided the Benton Harmony Grove Cardinals high school boys basketball team to the 3A State Tournament for the first time in school history during the 2013-2014 season. Now, the coach is making the move to his alma mater — a transition that the coach said will have him living his dream.

Dexter Hendrix is living his dream, but it may not be for the same reason that some people would think.

After two years as head coach of the Cardinals basketball team at Harmony Grove High School in Haskell, Hendrix will take over as coach at Benton High School, where he was a star player with the Panthers less than a decade ago.

“I am very excited about going to Benton and coaching in this great basketball program,” he said earlier this week from courtside in the Harmony Grove gym. “Benton has been very successful, and this is a unique position. There is something special about that place.”

However, the once and future Panther said his job is coaching his team, no matter who they are.

“I don’t want to always look forward. I am pleased to be here at Harmony Grove and to have had this opportunity, and I am grateful to be going to Benton. Throughout my career, I just want to be coaching every single day.”

Hendrix, whose Cardinal team had a disappointing first year, saw things turn around the second year as the team made its first appearance in the 3A State Tournament but lost in the semifinals to Charleston.

“The 3A conference is tough with good matchups,” he said. “That has helped make me more prepared for Benton, which — I have no doubt — is the toughest conference in the state. There are no nights off, but coaches look forward to that kind of competition, night in and night out.”

But Hendrix said there is more to being a successful coach than winning championships.

“It is about building relationships, and I have been able to do that at Harmony Grove,” he said. “My goal is to be a good influence off the court, about things that will come up after high school.”

As an example, Hendrix said, his father’s work ethic of trying to work harder than others, yet keeping the family his first priority, helped Hendrix as a player and also later in life, now that he has his own family.

The drive to work hard, while also keeping things in perspective, is seen in the motto he stresses to his players.

“We play smart, play hard and play together,” he said. “If we do those things, we have have a good chance of winning.”

He will take that philosophy back to Benton with him.

Basketball has always played a major role in his life, the coach said.

“Since I can remember, I have focused on basketball,” Hendrix said. “I played all sports until I was 11 or 12. Then I found out I could play basketball in the summer as well.

“I just love the game — playing it, watching it, talking about it.”

At Benton, Hendrix started every game in his high school career. The teams were competitive every year, but he remembers the year the school’s 12-2 record only allowed the team to finish second in the conference to Pine Bluff, who had a 14-0 season. Losing the season title, Benton went out of the tournament after the first round.

Following high school, Hendrix was a four-year starting guard for the Wonder Boys of Arkansas Tech University. While the team went 6-23 during Hendrix’s first season, the Wonder Boys improved. During his senior year under coach Mark Downey, the team went 30-2 and was rated the No. 1 team in Division II College Basketball for 12 weeks. Yet the Wonder Boys fell in the second round of the Division II tournament for the national title.

“Of course, I had NBA dreams,” Hendrix said, “but I never had any conversations from any professional teams. I was not surprised. My major in physical education was geared to coaching.

“I played as long as I could, although not as long as I wanted to, but I always knew I would be a coach.”

After graduating from Arkansas Tech in Russellville, he became as assistant coach at Russellville High School.

While the team went 23-7, Hendrix was talking with everyone he could think of about a head coaching job.

“I talked with every school, and I tried to see Rick Mooney (athletic director at Harmony Grove). He remembered me as a player and was nice,” Hendrix said. “We stayed in touch, and then I got the call.”

After starting 15-11, the hoops Cardinals had a record of 25-8 and won two games in the state tournament.

As a coach, Hendrix said, he adapts his style of play to match the players he has on a team.

“You have to study your personnel,” he said. “I am doing that now with informal meetings in the evenings with the Benton players.”

During the day, he still coaches the Cardinals varsity until school is done for the season.

“All coaches want to play a run-and-score style of play, but you have to put in a philosophy that fits the players,” Hendrix said. “In basketball, you have to have great players to have a successful season. With two good players, and if a coach can teach the rest to play hard, smart and together, you can be successful. My job to is make them believe.”

For that reason, Hendrix said, he is a 12-month coach. He wants his players to also be thinking about being a better basketball player every day of the year.

For coach Hendrix to be successful as a Panther, he will be making a big commitment. For the right balance in his life, he calls on the help of his wife and daughter.

“I have an outstanding wife,” he said. “She was not an athlete, and that works out great. She can take my mind away from the game.”

He said that while he is very supportive of his teams, she stays away from being involved.

“Jaymie has a full-time job already with daughter Chloe, and she is expecting another child,” Hendrix said. The last few years have been busy, but my wife and daughter have a way to get me away from basketball and make me realize what’s most important in life.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (51) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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