U of L's Henderson puts basketball on hold to chase Olympic dream
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It’s not the kind of decision you see every day, especially for a women’s basketball program of the magnitude of the one that coach Jeff Walz has built at the University of Louisville.
The Cards rank third in the nation in attendance and welcome the nation’s top-rated recruiting class for a highly-anticipated 2015-16 season.
But for junior-to-be Emmonnie Henderson, an Olympic dream is even bigger.
Henderson, a 6-1 native of Edwardsville, Ill., is a track and field All-American, and she announced Wednesday that she’ll put basketball on hold for a season to focus on a lifelong goal of reaching the Summer Olympics in in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the shot put and discus.
“I wanted to take the year off from basketball, with hopes of returning, to focus on making it to the Olympics,” Henderson said. “It’s been a goal of mine, and I know I couldn’t do it without the help of (track) coach (Dale) Cowper and coach (Jeff) Walz, so I’m very grateful to them.”
Henderson, who has competed for two seasons as a dual-sport athlete at U of L, ranks 12th in the nation in discus and 23rd in shot put. She finished sixth among collegians and 14th overall in the discus in the 2015 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships.
She finished third in discus at the NCAA championships this past season with a school-record throw. She was named the ACC’s Most Valuable Field Performer after winning the shot put and discus at the conference championships.
She averaged 11.3 minutes per game off the bench in basketball, averaging 5.3 points and 4 rebounds per game, but usually providing an instant spark in the post when she got into games.
Walz said he supported her decision to chase her Olympic dreams.
“I truly believe this is the best move for her,” he said. “We always tell our student-athletes that we want to look out for their best interests, and I think the best opportunity for her to make it to Rio is to focus solely on track and field this school year.”
Henderson expects to return to basketball after focusing on her throwing events this season. Track and field coach Dale Cowper said he’s excited to see what kind of progress she can make by focusing solely on her field events. She has increased her shot put by more than five feet and discus by 25 feet since arriving on campus.
“I’m excited to have Emmonnie join us full-time for the upcoming year,” Cowper said. “She has seen tremendous progress over very short, competitive spring seasons during her freshman and sophomore campaigns. I am confident she will see tremendous gains throughout the coming year.”
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