Freshman Xavier Henry is wowing Kansas fans
The No. 1 scorer on the No. 1 team never set out to leapfrog over the head of an opposing player, especially one standing at his full height of 6-foot-4.
It just sort of happened, like so many other things going on these days in Xavier Henry's full, happy life.
And while the eye-popping play against Alcorn State's Keith Searcy may have startled Searcy and surprised fans of the No. 1 Jayhawks, it triggered mostly admiring grins from teammates. Since the day the 6-foot-6 freshman arrived on campus, he's done nothing but deepen respect.
``Xavier is a pleaser, and I mean that from every positive sense,'' said coach Bill Self.
The son, brother and nephew of other Kansas basketball players and the most highly sought recruit Self ever signed, Henry has worked hard to fit in. He possesses all the tools for stardom. But he has the attitude and demeanor of a humble walk-on, a kid who's just hoping to catch on.
``He wants to do what is right based on whatever adult is talking to him - his strength coach, a professor, a coach,'' said Self. ``He trusts that what they're telling him is right and he wants to try to do what people ask.''
Able to score from anywhere on the court, he tops the deep, talented Jayhawks with 16.4 points a game, hitting .536 from the floor. He's exactly .500 from 3-point range, making 20 of 40. While the team has struggled at the foul line, Henry is hitting almost 9 of every 10.
On the court, he seems to be developing a special rapport with senior point guard Sherron Collins. Plus, he helps take double-teams away from 6-foot-11 Cole Aldrich and set up shots for everyone else.
``He can shoot all the shots,'' said sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor. ``I love being out there with him. He makes my job so much easier.''
The saga of how Henry and older brother, C.J., came to be Jayhawks could fill a book. Growing up in Oklahoma City, the brothers seemed destined to be Jayhawks since their father, Carl Henry, and their mother, Barbara Adkins Henry, both starred at Kansas in the early 1980s. Plus, Barbara's sister, Vickie Adkins Summers, ranks fourth on Kansas' career scoring list.
But Xavier committed to Memphis because that's where C.J. wound up after spending time in the New York Yankees minor league system. Then coach John Calipari left Memphis for Kentucky and C.J. and Xavier finally agreed to sign with Self, who had been recruiting them, it seems like, since grade school.
``A lot of us thought he was going to come in and want to take every shot,'' said Taylor. ``In high school, he was always the big guy on his team and never had to make the extra pass or look up when he was dribbling because he was always going to shoot. But he bought into our system and he wants to win. He's willing to sacrifice 10 or 12 points if he's going to win.''
That's an important thing. Sharing shots and playing time was going to be a problem anyway for a team that won 27 games a year ago and returned almost everybody, including preseason All-Americans in Collins and Aldrich.
``It's human nature to want to score, but he has been very unselfish,'' said Self. ``The one thing I would be critical of X so far is sometimes he takes his unselfishness to a step where he doesn't make plays. You can still make plays and not shoot the ball.''
Henry admits basketball is still coming fairly easy for him, even at the highest collegiate level.
``I didn't really know what to expect so I'm just taking it as it goes,'' he said with a big grin. ``I guess I'm happiest when we're doing real good and the whole team is upbeat and everyone is smiling and high-fiving. I love the team. I love the coaches. I can't wait to keep going.''
He leapfrogged Searcy last week to avoid a foul, not draw attention. The Alcorn State guard had pulled up after a shot fake and Henry, coming from behind, could either crash into him or try to go over him.
``I was just trying to keep from fouling,'' he said. ``I didn't think it was any big deal.''
Searcy was so shocked at having someone come flying over his head, he moved his feet and was called for traveling.
``Xavier is real, real athletic,'' said teammate Jeff Withey. ``You see some crazy things in our practices sometimes. It would be worth the price of admission.''