PITTSBURGH — Every college basketball player responds to one type of motivation more than others.
Some need to be challenged by their coach. Others play their best when disrespected by an opponent, or pushed by a teammate for playing time.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin spent a good chunk of the season trying to figure out how to help Jordan Henriquez get going. He tried starting him, benching him and suspending him. Turns out all the junior 7-footer needed was to see someone else with his same skill set and body type play at a high level.
Ever since, Henriquez has been one of the best shot-blockers in the nation.
The turning point came when K-State played Kansas on Feb. 13 at Bramlage Coliseum. Henriquez was going up against KU center Jeff Withey, a player he dominated in a head-to-head matchup a year earlier. But Withey was on a roll heading to the game, and had developed into one of the Big 12’s top big men.
Martin sat Henriquez down before the game and asked: Why can’t you play the same way?
“It was just me communicating with him so he remembered, ‘I’m not that bad,’ ” Martin said. “All I was trying to tell him was, ‘Hey, man, at this time last year you had a hell of a game and helped us win. Withey couldn’t get in the game. Now, a year later, this guy is dominating the league and I can’t get you to find consistency.”
Henriquez emerged from the conversation a changed man. He took the court against Kansas with newfound intensity and blocked six shots. He has been dynamite ever since. In his past eight games he has averaged four blocks and has scored 16 or more points three times.
Compared to his first 24 games, in which he averaged 1.8 blocks and scored more than 12 points once, he has made a drastic change.
It never would have happened if not for the motivation provided by Martin and Withey.
“That’s exactly where it started,” Henriquez said. “A few games before that, I was trying to play hard. But that day in practice, that shootaround, that game, something clicked. I’ve been leaving it all on the floor ever since.
“After hearing Frank say those things to me, I feel like I’ve been doing what is best for the team.”
He has established himself as a low-post presence on defense, became the program’s career blocks leader and has been a vital contributor. So vital that Martin no longer feels comfortable taking him out of games for more than a few minutes.
He was at his best last time out against Baylor when he scored 22 points and snared 14 rebounds.
His contributions go beyond numbers, though. His length and improved timing as a shot-blocker has allowed him to alter a number of shots taken near the rim.
That makes things easier for everyone else.
“I think he is doing an awesome job,” senior forward Jamar Samuels said. “He’s getting more confident with his defensive attacking. It’s been a lot easier for him. I’m not sure what more Jordan can do. He’s doing it all right now.”
He’s hoping to do more in the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s catching the ball and you can see that confidence growing in him,” Martin said. “In games and in practice he stays after it. He’s not getting pushed around like earlier in the year … He’s a great kid. He’s been big for us lately.”
If he finds himself in need of added motivation in the next few days, Henriquez knows exactly what to do: Think of what got his game going in the first place.
“I want another shot at (Withey),” Henriquez said. “You never know what the tournament brings. If we’re fortunate enough to win enough games, maybe we’ll get another shot at Kansas.”