A month after their fourth-quarter conference tournament collapse to SMU, the Knights were back working in the gym — but this time with new women’s basketball head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.
And just a few weeks into her new coaching gig, the former American East Coach of the Year is already making an impact on her players.
“She [coach Abe] takes a lot of time talking with us and talking about increasing our energy and encouraging one another,” redshirt sophmore forward Nyala Shuler said. “That’s gotten us, as a team, to pick up our energy during workouts and talk to each other more than we have in the past.”
The biggest thing that coach Abe has done, sophomore guard Aliyah Gregory added, is getting the team to believe.
“She’s [coach Abe] a really good motivator,” Gregory said. “She’s trying to change the culture, like Nyala said, ‘talking to each other lot.’ But I think the big thing is she’s trying to get us to believe in each other and believe in ourselves. She’s big on motivating everybody and making sure everybody’s confident in their abilities.”
A product of coach Abe, Albany University’s all-time leader in scoring and former four-year starter Shereesha Richards knows first hand Abrahamson-Henderson’s ability to reshape a team.
“It’s not just on the court, it’s off the court, too,” Richards said. “Always being able to go talk to her and talk about anything. Whether it be watching film or something not basketball related.”
In her senior season, Richards finished sixth in Division I basketball with 23.4 points per game. She credits coach Abe with helping her to expand her game and believes she’ll do the same with UCF.
“It’s so hard to explain how helpful she is,” Richards said. “First of all, in my head, this is so much. She’s been very helpful; over the past few years she’s the one who thought first that I could play overseas or professionally in the WNBA. And that didn’t come through for me until my junior/senior year that I thought that. Over the years, she’s definitely helped develop my game.”
Richards, who plans to play in the WNBA or overseas, was part of four of the five NCAA Tournament runs with coach Abe and four American East championships at Albany.
Coach Abe firmly believes the same growth and success can be attained by her new players at UCF.
“I definitely want to recognize the players at Albany,” head coach Abe said. “My team at Albany … they’re really jealous of this moment … because they don’t want me to leave, they want me to be there. But they know that [UCF is] going to be blessed and we’re going to grow.”
In the early offseason workouts, the Knights have already began to see what it will take for this team to duplicate the same success that coach Abe had at Albany University.
“We move in the weight room with a different sense of urgency,” Gregory said. “On the court, it’s a different pace. I think that will translate into our game plan, where she’s talking about she wants to press the whole game and be able to run and get up in transition, and that’s good for our team because we have a really athletic team.”
Coach Abe recognizes that getting this team to trust her is a new challenge in itself, and that the process of changing the locker-room culture will take time and patience.
“This change is hard for them,” coach Abe said. “They came here for a different head coach, and they have someone else coming in, but hopefully they’ll trust us and believe in us. It’s about one day at a time.”
But Gregory and Shuler understand that to be where they want to be as a team they must develop that trust with coach Abe and trust the overall process.
“We have to really trust her and her process first,” Gregory said. “We have to realize she’s won games where she’s at, so we have to really buy in to the process that she’s trying to put us through. And understand she’s not going to do anything to hurt us. Even if it doesn’t make sense to us, everything we’re doing is going to help us get better.”
Shuler added that “we really want to win … whenever you go through change, you have to have an open mind and so us trusting her and her trusting us is going to play a big role.”
Christopher Davis is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @ChristopherDTV or email him at ChristopherD@CentralFloridaFuture.com
This was originally published: 2:16 p.m. EDT May 18, 2016