Wall gets all the pub, but Kansas frosh Henry is just as impressive
Henry's averaging 18 points while posting stratospheric shooting percentages
Sounds like Ater Majok will definitely help UConn but he's not a savior; more notes
Plenty of movement in my AP ballot for this week
Newsflash: There's a freshman guard out there who is putting up huge numbers for a top-five team. He has a great chance to lead his school, which is steeped in basketball tradition, to a national championship before becoming a lottery pick next spring.
And his name isn't John Wall.
True college hoops fans know all about Xavier Henry, the 6-foot-6 freshman at top-ranked Kansas who is averaging 18 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while posting stratospheric shooting percentages: 55.6 percent from the floor, 53.3 percent from three-point range, 82.4 percent from the foul line. Alas, the sports mediasphere only contains so much oxygen, and right now Wall is sucking all of it up in Lexington. While the world was still going gaga over his scintillating 25-point, six-steal performance in Kentucky's win over UConn last Wednesday, Henry, a native of Oklahoma City, was quietly hanging a season-high 31 points on LaSalle (shooting 10-for-15) while enabling KU to coast to a 25-point win.
Henry and Wall are great players with differing styles. If Wall is a souped-up Ferrari who dashes from baseline to baseline in a blur, Henry is the sleek Cadillac with jazz blaring from the speakers, elegantly and efficiently slashing from the wing. He is a big, powerful, athletic lefty, and unlike Wall he has the luxury of playing with experienced teammates like senior point guard Sherron Collins and junior center Cole Aldrich. Henry has not played as many games on a big stage against top competition as Wall, but that will change soon enough.
Henry is the first to recognize that Wall has earned every bit of his publicity, but he will not concede that Wall is the better player. Henry also confesses that Wall's hot start has provided him with extra incentive. "It does kind of motivate me that he plays like that and gets all this attention, so if I play just as well then I should get the same," Henry told me in a telephone interview. "Just don't sleep on me. That's all I've got to say."
Nobody would call Henry a sleeper; Rivals.com ranked him No. 8 in the Class of 2009 and Scout.com had him 7th. But his seamless transition to the college game has surprised even his coach, Bill Self. "He's better than I thought," Self said. "The dude can get the ball in the basket. He scored a lot in high school and AAU ball, but he was a volume shooter. Now he's taking great shots, and he's really conscientious about doing everything the way we want it done."
Henry has what is often referred to as the "full package." He's a mega talent who's also a top-flight student. (He graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA and will finish his first semester with all A's and B's.) He's also a charming, unfailingly polite young man. Even so, Henry caused some consternation in Lawrence last summer when, instead of enrolling in summer school and bonding with his future teammates, he stayed home in Oklahoma City and worked out privately with his older brother, C.J., who is also a member of the Jayhawks. It didn't help matters when Henry's father, Carl, popped off to a local paper with boasts that Xavier would turn pro after his freshman year.
Xavier told me he stayed home in Oklahoma City largely because he had to undergo massive dental work. His orthodontist removed his braces, gave him four root canals and pulled four wisdom teeth. Even so, Self thought Henry should have been in Lawrence and was concerned with how his absence would be received by Kansas's returning players. "He did have some mouth issues, yet with that being said he could have been here, and I told him I was disappointed he wasn't," Self said. "I talked to our guys about it, and they all said it's all right, he seems like a great kid. They also said they couldn't wait for him to get here so they could guard him in pickup games."
If Henry proved to be unguardable, at least he has also been likable -- so much so that Self has had to caution him against being too deferential to his older teammates. Furthermore, Henry is that rare player whose book smarts translate to a high basketball I.Q. His high field goal percentages are as much a reflection of intelligent shot selection as they are his shooting ability. "He has been like a sponge," Self said. "You don't have to repeat things with him all the time. Once he gets it, it's done, and for the most part he gets it pretty quick."
Henry attributes his early success to his ability to process the reams of information being thrown at him. "I can memorize things real quickly," he said. "From a mental standpoint, nothing really comes hard for me."
As for his doppelgänger in Lexington, Henry told me that while he and Wall became friendly while playing on the AAU and high school all-star circuit, they haven't spoken in several months. (Here's a scary thought: For a time, it looked like they might play together in college. Henry signed a letter of intent to play at Memphis, but the school released him when John Calipari left for Kentucky. Wall had strongly considered playing for Memphis before deciding to follow Calipari to UK.) Henry is no overt publicity seeker, but he knows if he is going to overtake Wall in the public's imagination, he is going to have to do it face-to-face. "I just want to play him at least one time this year," Henry said.
Since their teams are not scheduled to play each other this season, that meeting would probably have to take place at the Final Four in Indianapolis. When I pointed that out to Henry, he let out a chuckle. "That would be nice," he said. "That would be a real good game."
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors