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New era in Lady Cav hoops begins today with Henry’s first game as head coach

Lea Henry

Lea Henry

ALBANY — Lea Henry has plans to take the Darton women’s basketball team to new heights in her first year as head coach of the Lady Cavs.

That journey starts tonight for the former Southwest Georgia Academy, University of Tennessee and U.S. Olympic basketball star.

The Lady Cavs host Albany State in an exhibition at 6 p.m. today at the Darton College Cavalier Arena, and it’s the first time Henry will be on the sidelines since stepping down last year as the longtime coach of NCAA Division I Georgia State, where she spent 16 seasons before leaving to help her husband, Greg Manning, full time with his company Camp of Champs Inc.

Henry was hired in early May, replacing longtime Lady Cavs coach Laura Blackwell, who was fired in early March after 14 years on the job. Under Blackwell, Darton finished with just two losing seasons and was 18-14 overall and third in the region last year.

As an athlete, Henry played basketball at the University of Tennessee and later started as point guard for the Gold-Medal-winning 1984 U.S. Olympic Team.

Considered a world-class figure in women’s basketball, Henry has already brought a lot of attention to the Darton program. Still, she seemed very relaxed in her office Wednesday as she anticipated the season opener.

“It’s a player’s game,” she said. “Coaches don’t win games. Players win games.”

Darton will likely look to its returning sophomores Jomanda “Jo Jo” Small, of Hardeeville, S.C., and Amber McKenzie, of Ty Ty, to lead the way as they face an athletic ASU squad coached by Robert Skinner.

The Lady Cavs have spent the last several practices focusing on fundamentals and “getting game ready,” Henry said.

There will also be other new faces on the sidelines along with Henry. Her husband will serve the program as a volunteer coach, while assistant coach Brandon Podgorski returns for 2011 following a previous stint as a volunteer assistant coach for Darton in 2009.

Henry began her collegiate coaching career in 1990 when she was interim head coach at Florida for one season. She then coached Mercer for four years before accepting her job at Georgia State.