2013-03-14 / Sports

Henning contemplates future at East Brunswick

Boys basketball head coach has 398 career victories

East Brunswick East Brunswick A t the end of every basketball season, coaches go through a self-examination, especially veterans like Robert “Bo” Henning of East Brunswick High School, when they ask themselves if they want to labor for another year on the job.

As Henning sat in the stands on March 9 to watch the NJSIAA Non- Public A and Non-Public B boys finals at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, he considered that very question, trying to decide if the fire will still burn inside him now that the Bears’ storybook season has come to an end. Henning admits to harboring thoughts these days that maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t want to go through another of what he terms “a year-round job.”

“I won’t deny it,” said Henning, three days after the Bears were edged by Atlantic City High School, 51-49, on March 6, which ended what was the most accomplished year in school history. “I have to evaluate now if I still have the energy to do this. These days, coaching a basketball team lasts the whole year.”

Admittedly, now is not the best time for Henning to ponder his coaching future, since he is five days removed from coaching East Brunswick to what was undoubtedly its finest night only to be followed by the low point of the season two evenings later. The Bears won only the second sectional title in program history and the first since 1986, defeating Trenton Central High School, 59-49, on March 4. The victory brought East Brunswick’s record to 26-3 and the wins represent the most in school history for a season.

The 2012-13 campaign was also the first time the Bears won the regular season Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division title by going undefeated, perhaps the greatest feat of all when you consider two of those victories were against St. Joseph of Metuchen High School, which went on to win the Non-Public A crown and is now vying for a Tournament of Champions title.

Henning has 398 career wins, including his first season at John F. Kennedy Memorial High School before arriving at East Brunswick a quarter century ago.

He talked about the season that just ended and why he believes this was the best team in school history.

“It’s not only about titles and wins,” he said. “This was an unbelievable group that was totally dedicated to achieving its goals and winning for each other. Each game, each practice was special. Plus, the friendships that were established will last a lifetime.”

It is clear those elements have been what keep Henning coaching, even if his voice always dissolves into a raspy growl by season’s end. During the offseason, he puts his heart and soul into bringing together individuals who, through summer camps and leagues, become a cohesive team that nearly always overachieves. This year’s team is a prime example of his handiwork.

The Bears were blessed with one of the best ever to wear green and white in Rob Ukawuba, a 6- foot-2 forward with the frame of a bodybuilder who started for four years and tied Matt van Leeuwan as the all-time career scorer in school history. Ironically,

Ukawuba sank a 3-point shot just before the buzzer in the final seconds of his career to equal van Leeuwan’s 1,306 points. Ukawuba heads to the New Jersey Institute of Technology next year on a full scholarship.

Another difference-maker, one who will return, was 6-foot-4 junior guard Amir Bell, who has already committed to Princeton University. Bell is a superb ball-handler and shooter who will replace Ukawuba as the team’s leader.

Then, there was gritty, hardnosed 6-foot- 4 forward Jake Krantz, who battled opponents inside the paint, usually taller than him, but never gave an inch of space. And how many times did 5-foot-9 guard Danny Leung surprise teams by his leaping ability and scoring touch that had them asking, “Who is this guy?”

Bell will be joined by shooting guard Gary Baumer as the important pieces of next year’s team, which Henning will soon start to rebuild, if he so chooses. There are other promising players who could make the Bears a strong team again, including a few from the junior varsity team, which captured the postseason GMC junior varsity tournament.

But the question now is will Henning be back?

“If my wife had her way,” Henning said, “the answer would be no.”

Perhaps the question has already been answered. Why else would Henning, on a beautiful day with temperatures hovering in the 60s, show up at a basketball game that didn’t involve his team? Could it be he still loves the game too much to abandon it just now? Only time will tell.

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