The first thing Bruce Weber should have done after being named Kansas State’s basketball coach in March would have been to ask the previous coach, Frank Martin, about the button.
You know, the one he pushed to get Jordan Henriquez going late during the 2011-12 season.
When Martin pushed that button, Henriquez blasted off. After a lackluster 13-game stretch, during which the 6-foot-11 giant averaged a meager three points and three rebounds and spent one game never getting off the bench at Oklahoma State, Henriquez found whatever it was he had been looking for.
In those final six games, including an NCAA Tournament loss against Syracuse, Henriquez averaged 15 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. Suddenly, it seemed as if he was everywhere, doing everything.
Henriquez has induced head scratching for much of his K-State career. With the wing span of a 747 and the ability to run the floor like a small forward, more was always expected. But the more that was expected, the more disappointed K-State fans were with his performance.
Then came the spurt to finish last season, when Henriquez played like one of the best big men in the country. He turned his passiveness into aggression and his potential into payoff.
Now the trick becomes to get him to play as well for an entire season. If Weber can figure out how to pull the best out of Henriquez, K-State has a great chance to exceed 20 wins for the seventh season in a row.
It’s not all about Henriquez, certainly. There are a bunch of experienced players on the Wildcats’ roster including a star, senior guard Rodney McGruder. Weber inherited a deep team that includes players with varied skills.
But Henriquez is the only athletic 6-11 defensive stopper. And there’s not a more important player when it comes to K-State’s success.
Trust me, Weber is fully aware. Players with Henriquez’s raw abilities are rare and often it takes longer than a coach expects or is comfortable with to find the key that turns the ignition.
Henriquez has been a major puzzle. It defies explanation that someone like could him could go a month without reaching double figures in scoring or rebounding.
Martin left K-State with a more-weathered face than when he started, and Henriquez has been, at times, a walking, talking drought.
Now, the hope is, he’s past all of those inconsistencies and frustrations. That finally, as a senior, he’s ready to become not just one of the best centers in the Big 12, but in the country. It’s not asking too much.
And trust me, Weber will be asking.
The new K-State coach needs a bang-up first season to quiet some of the critics – like me – who thought his hiring was too knee-jerk.
If you were looking for someone with the opposite demeanor of the often-irate Martin, you would need look no further than the affable Weber, who coaches a game as if he was captaining a cruise ship.
Martin, of course, was forever manning a battleship and never hesitated to fire his missiles. His brusque style wasn’t for everyone, and it didn’t seem to be working for the laid-back Henriquez, often the subject of Martin’s ire.
But then, like that, it started working. Henriquez exploded.
Were those final six games of the 2011-12 season an indicator of things to come? Or were they too small of a sample size, just more proof that Henriquez is an inconsistent tease?
The answer to those questions will help determine how well Weber’s first season at K-State goes.