Herndon Leans On Decades Of Collegiate, High School Coaching Experience To Lead SBS Women’s Basketball

AS JOHN HERNDON LEANED BACK INTO HIS OFFICE CHAIR, A PAIR OF BLACK-FRAMED GLASSES NESTLED ONTO HIS FOREHEAD AND AN ACOUSTIC PLAYLIST SETTING THE BACKGROUND MUSIC, WE TALKED BASKETBALL – THE GAME, THE RELATIONSHIPS, THE COACHES, THE MEMORIES AND HOW HE HAS DONE IT FOR 37 YEARS.

The coach better known as CH – a nickname he got from friend Todd Smith at a Rice basketball camp in the 90s – is still walking into the gym at Second Baptist School every morning donning his navy sweatshirt with an Eagle emblazoned on it and teaching the game.

But to understand CH, you must go back to where it all started.

THE ROAD TO SECOND BAPTIST SCHOOL

After graduating from Washington and Lee University, where CH played for Verne Canfield, he worked at a summer basketball camp for his former coach. This is where his love for coaching was born.

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“From day one, I remember the very moment when I said, this is what I want to do,” Herndon said. “I like teaching. I like coaching.”

Over the years, CH rose through the ranks coaching high school, NCAA Division III (Washington and Lee) and Division II basketball (North Dakota State) before landing a job on Willis Wilson’s staff at Rice University in the late 90s. After his time there he opened his own gym called “CH Basketball” and did that for 13 years before getting back into coaching high school.

But it wasn’t men’s basketball, which he had done his entire career. Instead, for the first time in his life he would be coaching women’s basketball at Second Baptist School.

“I came here and immediately fell in love with coaching young women,” Herndon said about the move four years ago.

AN SBS SUCCESS

Since CH walked into Second Baptist School four years ago, all they have done is win. But it has taken the right ingredients.

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“Coaching and teaching basketball successfully takes two sides of the coin,” Herndon said. “It takes the coaches and the players. Are they teachable? Can they play instinctively? It is this neat mix of coaching and receiving coaching. I’ve been blessed to be under the best teachers of the game.”

When CH was in Austria running a defensive clinic, it was Austrian men’s national team coach Friedrich Walz who told him to be a good coach you can’t become other coaches. You are a cake and the things you learn from those coaches are raisins.

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“I finally have a cake that has all sorts of raisins on it,” Herndon said. “I apply things that I have learned from them, but they mesh with what I was meant to be. It is a unique cake that I have developed. It’s my own.”

The players at Second Baptist School are recipients of that teaching.

“The way I think of those coaches is the way I want the girls to remember me,” Herndon said. When they become moms at some point, I hope they just remember something they learned from me and apply it to their lives. That would be the greatest fruit of all.”

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His mix of basketball knowledge and living by themes like F.L.I (Fun, Learn, Improve) and the Three L’s (Laugh a Lot, Love Each Other, Lifelong Memories), they have been able to win and win a lot at Second Baptist School.

They have won the District Championship for four-straight seasons. In his first year, they went to the TAPPS Final Four. Every season since then, including the 2022 campaign, Second Baptist School has finished as the TAPPS 5A State Runner-Ups.

That success doesn’t come easy, but it all starts with belief and confidence, which his team has and isn’t a stat that a coach can scout.

“I think it is a great thing for teams, whether at the college or high school level, to have a confident expectation of themselves,” Herndon said. “Where they actually believe where they belong. When the girls walk in and see [the plaques], they see themselves as champions.

“That’s a first step towards winning a championship. You expect it that you belong there. It takes the pressure off you.”

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With a trio of State Runner-Up plaques attached to the wall, one would think the next obvious step is winning it all. Of course, that is what CH wants to do but at the end of the day – it is more than just winning basketball games for him.

“One of our themes we live by every week here at Second Baptist School is that we just try to win every day,” Herndon said. “We try to win at being young ladies growing up, academically, spiritually and socially. Our goal is to achieve excellence in those areas and not just basketball.”

THE OFFICE

As CH went down memory lane on an afternoon in March, he would rise from his chair to point to a photo on the wall and give that player’s story from time to time.

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His corner office nestled into the wall of the gymnasium is filled with photos, plaques and a stack of plastic-spiraled manuals on coaching basketball that he wrote.

“[People] come in and the first thing that they think is that I must like kids,” Herndon said. “I sure do. It is all about relationships for me.”

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Starting in one corner of his office the wall has numerous game-action photos from Rice basketball and even the Chinese Junior National Team. In the very center of those photos is a canvas print of two pre-k kids at Second Baptist School smiling ear-to-ear.

“I could fill it up with all the college players, but I never forget that it starts right there,” Herndon said pointing at the photo. “These are the kids that watched them play.”

Unlike his previous high school coaching job, where he taught Spanish and Geology classes, at Second Baptist School CH gets to interact with the little kids daily in his P.E. classes. Running up and down the court with them cheering them on.

“I know I have a ton of grey hair, but they think I’m just one of the kids to play with out there,” Herndon said.

As you look around CH’s office it goes from the college players to the pre-k kids to his graduated seniors from Second Baptist School – his wall of fame – all enshrined into his memory.

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“I’m going to blink one day and this will all be over, I won’t be coaching anymore,” Herndon said. “But what will live on is in their memories and their families’ memories.”

ENJOYING THE RIDE

As CH goes into the offseason and turning 60 this year, the ball coach doesn’t have a set number of how much longer he will do this.

But if you watch him coach a game, jumping and leaping near the bench and coaching his team with his full heart – he doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

“I feel like I have a little juice left in these legs like I can go a little bit more,” Herndon said. “When I’m on the floor my motor revs up. I have a lot of energy; I have energy to watch for details, applaud them when it goes right and to correct them when it goes wrong. I have energy to coach at my highest level.

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“When we step off the floor and come into my office, my rhythm slows down. I’m gentle and soft spoken.”

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At the end of a practice is where that slower rhythm comes out. He will gather the team together to talk about the day’s work and finally ask, “Why is this the most important thing going on on the planet?”

Their response every time – “Because it involves us.”

“While this is girls 5A private school basketball and for a lot of people they may say this doesn’t rank as high as Division I men’s basketball, I say yes it does because it involves your sweet daughters,” Herndon said. “It is an honor and a precious gift to be able to impact lives at this age.”

As he goes into the twilight of his career, CH admits he doesn’t take anything without appreciating it more and celebrating every accomplishment, even the smallest of them. And he isn’t afraid to tell his players every day that he loves them.

“They learn early on that I love them dearly,” he said. “I have to define that word love. Love for me is intensely caring about their welfare. They feel as free to tell me that they love me as I tell them I love them. We love each other, so they’ll allow me to push them.”

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And that loving culture is one that is fostered within the walls of Second Baptist School every single day by the teachers, coaches and staff and passed onto the kids. In a caring community centered around Jesus Christ, coaches love because they were first loved by God. Through mentoring students, it goes beyond character but into instilling a love for God and a biblical worldview.

“When you come inside our campus, you arrive at a place where people are gentle with each other,” Herndon said. “We all love one another … It is a special place.”

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