PROVIDENCE – He’s a Friar who emerged as one of the key cogs in Ed Cooley’s quest to restore the shine to Providence College’s men’s basketball program.
Even the PC gear that LaDontae Henton wears to work screams vintage – not to mention it serves as a reminder of an identity that was cultivated by the head coach and taken to another level in a fashion sense.
On Monday, Henton’s attire included a Providence T-shirt with “Culture Matters” emblazoned across the chest. “Culture Matters” was one of a few slogans that came to define the Friar teams that earmarked Henton’s highly successful four-year playing run. Two additional slogans that spring to mind include “Heart & Soul” and “Let’s Eat.”
Henton is a Friar name from the not-so-distant past. The profound power of welcoming back an all-time great – someone who exited his time in Black & White as a 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound performer – is cause for celebration. Last week’s announcement of Henton rejoining the Friars as a Special Assistant to the Head Coach provides the current group of Providence players with a physical example of what can be achieved under Cooley’s watch.
Invaluable resource? It certainly has a nice ring to it, having someone on the staff who was part of a Big East Tournament Championship, made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and then went on to earn several years’ worth of paychecks while playing basketball for a living.
“To see his growth where he’s a [college] graduate who went on to play professionally and now comes back and gives back to Providence College … I’m happy for him as a person,” said Cooley.
It wasn’t that long ago when Henton walked the walk and talked the talk as those who make up Providence’s 2021-22 squad. He’s yet to celebrate his 30th birthday, hence he finds himself in a position where he can relate to today’s Providence player.
“I’ve been through the grind,” said Henton, standing before a group of reporters and TV cameras following the conclusion of Monday’s media training session. “I was Coach Cooley’s first recruit. I know the ups and downs with him and the program and what it takes to be successful.”
Henton has intel on what it’s like to face a Big East lineup that includes the current conference arrangement that was formed before his junior season at PC (2013-14). Digging even deeper, Henton knows what it’s like to face UConn at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center – an experience that awaits Nate Watson, A.J. Reeves, and the rest of the Friars come this winter.
“He’s going to be able to help us with our young men. They’ll be able to ask him questions about the before, the during, and the after,” said Cooley. “I think he’s going to be a valuable piece of what we’re trying to do.
“He’s an example to a lot of young men and women of doing it the right way,” Cooley added.
Noted Henton, “I want to be there for the guys on and off the court and tell them about the grind and what it takes to be successful and a professional because that’s what a lot of the guys here aspire to someday become.”
The ball is going to stop bouncing at some point. What are you going to do next? Henton was in Israel when COVID-19 broke. The season was canceled and he returned home. Gym time proved scarce with Henton – still honest as ever – admitting he fell a bit out of shape as he pondered his next on-court move.
In what proved to be his final go-around as a pro hoopster, Henton exited the stage as one of the leading scorers in the Taiwan-based league he hooped it up in during the 2020-21 season. There were nagging injuries to contend with, plus the uncertainty and protocols brought on by the pandemic. When it came time to lend serious credence to the next step, Henton thought long and hard about Aleena, his two-year-old daughter.
“It would be tough for her to travel, plus I would be gone for five to eight months at a time,” said Henton.
Henton’s decision to hang up the sneakers for good was soon followed by a phone call from a familiar voice. The message from Cooley to his former player was simple: Come give back to the program.
“It felt right. It felt like the right time. It was a no-brainer for me,” said Henton. “I didn’t want my wheels to fall off. I wanted to be able to have energy to give back to the guys. I also knew I wanted to do this at my alma mater, Providence College. It made sense to do this right now.”
The news of welcoming back Henton into the Friar fold set off an avalanche of congratulations. The list of former Friars who reached out to congratulate Henton on his new role at PC includes former teammates Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil, and Bryce Cotton.
“All the legends who played at Providence College are happy to see one of their own who played here in a position where he’s giving back to the program,” said Henton.
From a coach-player perspective, Henton figures to strike a deep chord with current PC freshman Legend Geeter. Similar to Henton, Geeter is Michigan born-and-raised. Both are products of the same AAU program (The Family).
“I’m trying to build a relationship with him,” said Henton. “I’m not saying he has big shoes to fill, but Michigan is a place where you take pride in being from. You have to play with a chip on your shoulder. I’m trying to instill that in [Geeter]. He’s a great guy who’s working hard. He has a chance to be really great here at Providence.”
In his new role, Henton views himself as a rookie who’s eager to get better in the coaching world he’s chosen to enter.
“All the coaches, they’ve done it before,” he said. “I’m like a sponge … soaking up everything I can learn.”
Walk around the Ruane Friar Development Center and you’re bound to run into a reminder or two of what Henton accomplished while wearing a Friar uniform. Now, Henton finds himself on the other side of the coin.
He’s also back on the same campus that’s located in the same city where he made some incredible memories. PC athletic director Bob Driscoll views the return of Henton to the Friars as a move akin to welcoming home one of your children.
“He’s such a special human being and will bring the energy and passion to these young guys regarding what’s possible,” said Driscoll. “If people want to come back, that means we’re doing a good job. I’m thrilled that he’s here.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03