SEATTLE — When Rodney McGruder saw Jordan Henriquez speaking with a group of reporters earlier this week, he decided to join in with a question of his own about Kansas State’s upcoming game against No. 14 Gonzaga.
Asked McGruder: “How do you think you can help your team win this game on Saturday?”
The question was meant as a tongue-in-cheek gag, with McGruder smiling and laughing throughout the exchange, but Henriquez treated it like any other query.
“I feel like I have to have a double-double, not in points and rebounds, but in blocks and rebounds,” Henriquez said. “I have to protect the rim along with our other big guys.”
The back-and-forth might have revealed a lot about Henriquez. At the moment, he is no mood for jokes. He is struggling on the court, averaging 5.1 points, 5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks and has lost his starting spot eight games into his senior season. Until that changes, he isn’t going to mince words about what he needs to do to help his team.
He wants to get back to playing the way he did at the end of last season, when he turned into a dominant postseason post player. During the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments, he averaged 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Those contributions helped K-State stay close in important games against Baylor and Syracuse and beat Southern Mississippi in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
That stretch showed his potential, and helped K-State’s national perception heading into this season. But everyone wanted to know, could he sustain that type of play? Though Henriquez has always had the height, he has lacked bulk and came to K-State as a project. His career numbers are 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Was it too soon to expect Henriquez to consistently play like a future NBA draft pick the way some opposing coaches predicted at Big 12 media days? So far, yes.
“The way I’ve been playing lately — I have those games from last year — sometimes I go home and look at what I did on offense and defense,” Henriquez said. “The way I created my opportunities to score, which is off of offensive rebounds or putbacks.”
Has it been disappointing that hasn’t been the case so far?
“A little bit,” Henriquez said. “It’s about the confidence in my game. I have to bring it everyday in practice. Coach (Bruce Weber) preaches to me about it all the time, being consistent in practice and it will transpire over into the game.”
Some of his struggles can be explained by the presence of a new coach. Weber runs a different offense than Frank Martin and usually uses one post player at a time. That has put pressure on Henriquez to produce in new situations. He hasn’t scored more than eight points or grabbed more than eight rebounds. Against Delaware, a team with marginal size, he was held scoreless.
That’s a far cry from the intimidating player who scored 14 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against a deep Syracuse frontline last year.
“We are trying,” Weber said. “We don’t want two big posts sitting in there clogging things up. We want a little bit of space. If we have two bigs in there, one should be screening on the perimeter and one should be posting up, then you can interchange. We’re figuring things out.”
Henriquez has also battled injuries. He missed one game with back spasms and then hurt his ankle against George Washington. He has had to sit out practices, and was still trying to run at full speed on Wednesday.
But he says he has been dealing with back pain since he started playing basketball. He doesn’t want to blame that for anything.
“I don’t have any excuses,” Henriquez said. “It’s just about me bringing it. I take credit for my play.”
Henriquez feels like his play is improving. He logged three blocks and three rebounds in 16 minutes against George Washington, and he says he is gaining a better understanding of how he fits in Weber’s system.
He is looking forward to the challenge of facing Gonzaga’s front line, which features 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, offensively skilled Elias Harris and a deep bench.
A double-double against that lineup would go a long way toward getting him back on track. And helping K-State win.
“You’ve got to attack their bigs,” Henriquez said. “We have got to get their bigs in foul trouble. We have to do whatever we have to do to keep them on defense … It’s a huge test for me and our front line. I plan on playing 100 percent and giving my all. Win or lose, whatever my stat line is in the game, I will be proud, because I am going to give my all this weekend.”