Henderson chosen to coach Hughson boys basketball

March 18, 2024

R.J. Henderson, who transformed Denair from a two-win team when he took over to a Sac-Joaquin Section champion before he left, has been named the new boys basketball coach at Hughson High School. Henderson replaces Justin Riggs, who stepped down in February after three seasons as the Huskies’ coach.

Henderson led Denair for 10 years and compiled an overall record of 117-125. In his final three seasons, the Coyotes won or shared the Southern League championship. During that span, they were 32-2 in league play and 64-10 overall. The 2021-22 team won the school’s first Sac-Joaquin Section title since 2002 and made it to the second round of the NorCal Tournament for only the third time ever.

“My first five years in Denair was getting our teeth kicked in and trying to figure things out,” said Henderson, who still teaches in the Denair district. “By the time I left, we had built a pretty good program.

”Hughson Principal Loren Lighthall said Henderson’s track record made him a natural fit for the Huskies.

“R.J. is a great basketball coach who makes a difference in the lives of students,” Lighthall said. “He has a long history of success in a difficult place to win and we're confident he will be successful at HHS. We're over the moon to get him at Hughson.

”For the past two years, Henderson been an assistant coach for the Central Catholic varsity boys team and the head coach of the JV team, which he led to a league title this season. He said the Hughson opening appealed to him right away when he heard about it.

“It has the small-school vibe I had in Denair,” Henderson said. “It’s definitely a step up in competition. It will be a challenge.

”Under Riggs, Hughson was 10-15 in 2023-24, 8-13 in 2022-23 and 3-19 in 2021-22, and struggled in the always competitive Trans-Valley League, which promises to get even tougher next year when Sonora and Orestimba will replace Riverbank and Livingston.

As he did in Denair, Henderson has plans for an ambitious offseason program for his players and to beef up the youth program. He already has been in the gym with some of the players expected to be part of next year’s roster.

“I’ve hit the ground running and I’m trying to evaluate talent,” Henderson said. “In the first year, it’s important to see what we have. We’ve got some good kids coming in as freshmen.

”The new coach has scheduled a meeting for incoming freshmen as well as players already in the program – plus their parents – on March 25.

“That’s when I’ll evaluate the commitment level,” said Henderson, who envisions Hughson’s varsity and JV players participating in up to 20 AAU games in the late spring and early summer.

“June’s a big month,” he said. “We’ll be in Rocklin, Clovis and Sparks, Nev., and we’ll still be in the Escalon summer thing.”

The energy Henderson has brought to the program in just a short time is exactly what convinced Athletic Director Justice Futch that he was the man for the job.

“R.J. has made a huge impression on me in a very short time,” Futch said. “He is just an all-around professional in everything that he does. He wasted no time on getting involved and making preparations for next season. I'm extremely confident in him as a coach and even more so as the leader of a program.”