Henry Domercant was never quite sure if coaching was for him. As a player, he chided he was too “self-centered” to initially envision taking on the responsibility of an entire team.
But as the Bolingbrook, Ill. native and Naperville High School product wound his way through a transient playing career that featured stops at Eastern Illinois University, the NBA D League, and all over Europe, a theme emerged.
“It wasn't anything I went to people about, but people came to me about,” Domercant told NBC Sports Chicago after a recent Bulls practice. “‘When you're done, you're gonna be a coach.’ And I'm like, ‘Ah, I'm not really interested.’
“And then the next person: ‘I can see you being a really good coach.’
“And then the next person: ‘Hey, if you ever think about coaching…’
“So I started to have that confirmed later in my career, that coaching was something people thought I should do.”
Now, after multiple G League assistant-coaching stints and a season as a player development coordinator for the Bulls, Domercant is poised to take over as head coach of the organization’s G League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls, when they return from a one-season, pandemic-induced break in November. Damian Cotter last coached the team, but is now a player-development-focused assistant coach on Billy Donovan’s staff.
Domercant, the fourth coach in the program’s history, said he is massively grateful for the opportunity, which gives him a chance to do what he loves in his home city.
“My heart is here,” Domercant said. “I've played all around the world, but Chicago has always been home.
“But also being a head coach… I believe leadership in any capacity is service. And part of how I will serve the players is creating an atmosphere for them to grow and hopefully leading them to a place they couldn't go by themselves.”
Domercant’s own playing days were nothing to scoff at. Across four seasons at EIU, he averaged 21.7 points, winning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2002, then enjoying a 27.9 point-per-game 2002-03 season that placed him second in the NCAA in scoring. Making professional stops in Turkey, Greece, Russia and Italy, he was a part of nine championship- or league-winning teams as a player.
But those days ended abruptly, when, during a training camp in Romania, he was diagnosed with acute tendinosis in his Achilles tendon — a condition which carries a markedly increased chance of rupture.
“At my age, that was kind of like, I don't want it to break for me to realize it was time to stop. My body was giving me signs. And also my wife was giving me signs,” he said with a laugh.
That’s when Domercant pivoted to coaching and player development work, accepting an assistant position with the Maine Red Claws, then the Celtics’ G League affiliate, in 2017. Then, former Windy City Bulls head coach and Bulls assistant Charlie Henry brought him onto the Windy City staff in 2018, where Domercant stayed through the 2019-20 season.
The promotion to player development coordinator ensued for 2020-21, and he was even raised from assistant status to coach two Summer League contests for the Bulls in August.
“I think work ethic describes me as a player,” Domercant said when asked what qualities he thinks made people peg him as a prime coaching candidate. “I come from a small school. I didn't jump the highest. I didn't run the fastest ever. But hard work was how I set myself apart.
“And honestly, if I sound like a coach, or what I've heard from others, is character. I really think that that's something I value a lot, and I think other coaches have seen something in me.”
Donovan certainly did.
“Great character. Really, really just a tremendous person. That’s the first thing that stands out,” Donovan said of Domercant. “I think the other thing that stands out is his love for the city of Chicago. His love for the Bulls. What it’s meant to him to be the G League coach here. There’s a real pride and passion that he has about it. I think because of his playing experiences and what he’s been able to do throughout his career, he’s got a great grasp of the game and feel for the game.
“Besides him as a person, I think the one thing that he’s got a great skill with is he’s really good with people. And I could say last year, just seeing him with different players, working with different players, just how much respect there was there and the way he could connect with guys. So I think he’ll do a terrific job. I’m really happy for him personally that he was hired (as the Windy City Bulls head coach). And I think he’ll be a tremendous pick.”
Domercant said he’ll mold his leadership style after the litany of coaches he’s played for and worked under, which includes Donovan.
Ultimately, he hopes to pay forward the time others have invested mentoring him. And after a hiatus that spans back to March 2020, he’s excited to hit the ground running with the Windy City Bulls, a program the front office hopes to use as a tool for development.
“My role and my goal in the G League is I want to create an atmosphere that's conducive to growth and development. I think that's part of what the league is for,” Domercant said. “And I want to help take players where they can't take themselves. That's what I believe the role of a coach is.”