Golden Gate thinks it has the perfect ‘Guy’ to return Titans basketball to greatness

As an assistant coach, Guy Hensley, second left, helped former Golden Gate High boys basketball coach Greg Anderson, left, guide the Titans to 83 wins — and a regional finals berth — over four seasons from 2013-2017.

BY ANDREW SODERGREN
SPECIAL TO CSI

Golden Gate High gets its Guy back to run boys basketball program

As Guy Hensley fulfilled his lifelong dream of coaching college basketball, he began realizing just how much he missed the high school game.

Although he enjoyed the challenges of recruiting, breaking down film and relating to his players as an assistant at Division II Tiffin (Ohio) University the last three years, his heart never truly left Golden Gate — where he and former head coach Greg Anderson guided the Titans to their greatest successes during a four-year run together. In those years, Golden Gate went 83-30, had three 20-win seasons and won a pair of district championships.

When Brian Kelly resigned in March to spend more time with his family, the Titans knew exactly where to turn. They brought Hensley back to the fold last month as head coach of the program he loves so dearly.

“My main motivation for leaving was to give coaching a shot at that level,” Hensley said. “I’ve always felt I had the basketball knowledge and work ethic to succeed there. I’m a student of the game and I’ve always enjoyed every aspect of coaching, but at the college level, things are obviously different. There’s so many NCAA rules and guidelines you need to follow and only so many hours you can spend with your players during the week. I still found ways to build those strong relationships, but you can’t teach as much basketball as you do in high school. And it’s much harder to build that family atmosphere like we had at the Gate.”

Family is a word often repeated by Hensley and those who know him as a coach. He uses the hashtag #thefamily repeatedly on Golden Gate basketball’s social media feeds. In the three years at Tiffin, he maintained contact with his former Golden Gate players through group texts — still offering guidance and funny anecdotes from afar.

When Hensley accepted the Titans job, he texted those former players and received an avalanche of responses over the next several hours.

Jeffercy Jean, a former Golden Gate star who played four years at Division II Flagler College, recalls the excitement he and his former teammates felt when finding out Hensley was coming home.

“He started out the text with ‘Guys I’ve got something to tell you,’ and then he drops the bombshell on us,” Jean said. “From that point on, everybody was texting back and forth, reacting at the same time. The phones were blowing up. This is huge. It’s going to give the spark the program needs. One of the biggest things about coach Hensley is he’s a no-nonsense guy who brings out 110 percent in each and every player. I’ve never really been around a coach that’s been able to bring out the full potential in everyone like he can. This team now at Golden Gate is pretty young and I think they’re going to benefit from what coach Hensley brings every day in practice.”

Longtime Golden Gate athletic director Pete Seitz said he received “around 50 applications” for the job, but once the 37-year-old Hensley expressed interest in the position, he was the clear frontrunner.

“From the basketball standpoint, Guy Hensley has a great reputation of knowing the game inside and out,” Seitz said. “But more importantly, he knows our kids. He’s been here and he and coach Anderson have gotten so many of our kids to the next level.”

Although COVID-19 has prevented Hensley from meeting in person with his team, he’s been in constant contact with the players through group texts — relaying offseason workouts and expectations he has for every player in the program.

“He’s already been checking kids’ grades and making sure they’re where they need to be academically,” Seitz said. “They haven’t been in the gym yet but he’s staying on top of things from the academic standpoint. Guy’s main goal isn’t to just make these kids better basketball players. He wants to turn boys into men and make sure they’re set up for success throughout their life. That’s always been important to him.”

THE START OF IT ALL

When Anderson took over the program prior to the 2013-14 season, he needed an assistant. Hensley was living in Ohio at the time, but the 2001 Gulf Coast High School graduate was planning a move back to Naples. Anderson had known Hensley from their days at Gulf Coast, where Hensley starred for the basketball team and Anderson was one of his teachers.

Anderson knew about Hensley’s lifelong love of basketball and thought he would be a good fit.

“He showed up for one of our summer workouts and at that point he wasn’t committed to joining the staff,” Anderson recalled. “After about an hour of working with the kids, he sort of looked at me and said, ‘These guys are really good and they’re great kids.’ He was hooked that very day. He said there was something about the Golden Gate kids, the way they listened and the way they worked. He connected with them instantly and he was a tremendous asset to our program from that point forward.”

The 2016-17 Golden Gate Titans gather for a team photo during a trip to Key West in December 2016.

Anderson began to lean on Hensley heavily, as he displayed a finely tuned basketball acumen and attention to detail early on.

“He really is a basketball savant,” Anderson said. “He sees the game and breaks the game down better than anyone.”

Anderson recalled a time during their second year together when the Titans were having a difficult time finding their third option on a particular offensive set. He discussed the problem with Hensley, who immediately went to work on a solution.

“I’m still talking to him and for about 15 seconds I wasn’t sure if he was even listening to me, he was just staring off,” Anderson said. “But then he said, ‘I got it,’ and he put a drill in right then and there to work on the problem we were having and the kids understood it right away. I knew then that this was someone who could easily run my practices; and during our last year together, he ran the practices himself and I’d go up top to film. We were always on the same page with what we wanted to accomplish.”

Hensley gave credit to Anderson for helping him with the mental and personal side of coaching — dealing with a blend of personalities and having them form a cohesive unit.

“I learned a lot about the psychology of coaching through Coach Anderson,” Hensley said. “Knowing every kid’s background and working to their strengths. He was big on team bonding and doing stuff off the court that really brings teams together. That’s why our teams were always so close and remain close to this day.”

Hensley says he’s learned even more from his three years at the college level, especially when it comes to recruiting.

“Back when Coach Anderson and I were together, we did everything we possibly could to get our kids to college, but we were kind of winging it,” Hensley said. “I now know exactly what college coaches are looking for, both from the athletic and academic standpoint. And I’ve made more contacts over that time which should help open opportunities for our kids.”

Talk to any former Golden Gate player about Hensley and they’ll tell you about his dedication to conditioning — both in the offseason and during practice. They’ll also likely tell you about his intensity, sense of humor and love for his players.

Arcaim Lallemand, a starting forward during the Titans’ run to the regional final in 2014-15 who went on to play four years at Division I Eastern New Mexico University, recalled a few of his favorite Hensley stories.

“One day, someone was late for practice and that got everything off to a bad start,” Lallemand said. “He was mad because he strives for perfection with every practice. So we’re instantly running and he’s not saying much to anybody. Somebody made the mistake of talking about something not basketball related and he snapped, saying something like, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ It struck fear into everyone. Then someone gets dunked on really bad and we’re all scared to react. He just starts busting out laughing and said, ‘You guys were worried the whole time.’ With him, it was always tough love. He truly was like a big brother to everyone on the team. You went out of your way to give him the extra respect, and you never wanted to let him down.”

Lallemand said Hensley liked to show off his shooting exploits to the guys on the team.

“He worked with every one of us on improving our shots and he could also back it up,” Lallemand said. “He’d hit these crazy Steph Curry shots all the time and walk off like it was expected. We’d all be like, ‘I don’t know how he just did that.’”

BRIGHT FUTURE

Hensley believes the Titans aren’t far away from contending again. Kelly inherited a difficult situation more than two years ago when Sean Richey — who was hired to succeed Anderson — took a personal leave of absence and never returned. After years of unprecedented success under Anderson and Hensley, morale was low and the magic was suddenly gone during a woeful 3-20 campaign.

Anderson, who stepped down from his coaching post to spend more time with family and focus on his administrative position at the school, saw everything transpire firsthand. Golden Gate went 8-17 in 2018-19 and 3-21 this season, but progress was being made.

“Coach Kelly really re-established that concept of team and family again,” Anderson said. “And it showed with how the team played last year. The wins and losses might not have been there but when you look at it, he had a very inexperienced team that got blown out in the early games. But when they faced teams a second time, they were losing by single digits. The kids were starting to see results from their hard work. So the confidence was starting to build already.

“Now you’ve got Coach Hensley coming back, which gives the kids a boost because in the years we were together, Guy was the face of our program — this big guy with a beard and a shaved head. Many of the kids on the team now had relatives or friends on those teams. They remember the excitement we generated at our games.”

Two of those players, brothers Deon and Andy Pacouloute, recalled those years fondly. Their cousin, Claudin Cherelus (who’s now a college football player at Alcorn State), was a power forward for the Titans.

“They were a really great team that was always fun to watch,” Deon Pacouloute said. “Jeffercy, Orrington (Hamilton), James (Harris). So many talented players and the atmosphere was crazy. The games were always sold out and the crowd always got into it.”

Andy Pacouloute said he’s looking forward to working with Hensley, citing his reputation for preparation and getting the most out of his players.

“One thing I’ve always heard from (former players) is how much he stresses the offseason work, just continuously getting better through strength and conditioning, working on parts of our game like becoming better shooters,” Andy Pacouloute said. “We feel like we’ve got a really talented team here; we just didn’t have a lot of experience. But we’ve got 11 guys coming back, and with Coach Hensley pushing us even harder, we’ll be a lot better next year.”

TRADITION LIVES ON

Guy Hensley, far left, and Greg Anderson, far right, flank Beauchni Cherubin, Jeremiah Hopper, Jeffercy Jean and Arcaim Lallemand during a Golden Gate High signing ceremony in 2015. The senior quartet helped lead Golden Gate to its first-ever regional final.

Hensley is bringing two of Golden Gate’s finest players back to the fold, with Jean and 2007 graduate Joey Woods joining the coaching staff.

“These are guys that have graduated and are permanently in our hallways with the accolades they achieved here,” Hensley said. “They know what it takes to be successful and I think the kids can learn a lot from guys who have been in their shoes.”

Jean said what separates Hensley from most coaches is how much he loves his players. He recalled the signing ceremony where he, Lallemand and fellow senior Jeremiah Hopper committed to college as one of his fondest Hensley memories.

“We all felt the emotion in the air and it was all over his face,” Jean said. “He couldn’t hide how proud he was of us and he’s probably going to kill me for saying this, but he was crying the whole time. To see him crying those tears of joy, it’s one of the best memories I’ll ever have.”