Now that he has completed his latest overseas stint as a professional basketball player in Vietnam, Jordan Henriquez is eyeing a trip home.
Henriquez, a former Kansas State forward that set the school’s career record for blocks while playing for Frank Martin and Bruce Weber, hopes he can make it to Manhattan this weekend to visit old friends and take in K-State’s spring football game.
“If you get a chance to come out and watch us play, we will definitely make it worth your while,” Henriquez said in a phone interview. “We are also looking for a sponsorship or two. We will get a GoFundMe page going in the next couple days. We are looking for some support.
“Even if it’s a dollar or 50 cents, it does make a difference. We truly appreciate it. We are going to go out there and try to win this prize and support ourselves and our families and make the K-State family proud.”
Purple and Black made a splash last year when it shattered the tournament’s all-time record for fan votes within 24 hours of registration. Fan votes play a key role in determining the 64 teams that compete in the event. The K-State alumni team went on to lead all vote-getters with 4,401 and easily qualified for a spot in the Midwest Regional.
This time around, fan support hasn’t been as strong. As of Wednesday afternoon, Purple and Black ranked fourth in its region with less than 500 votes.
But Henriquez isn’t concerned. Based on the reception he usually gets on campus, he is confident K-State fans will once vote in strong numbers.
“We are always welcome back,” Henriquez said. “We don’t even need an invitation. We bleed purple and it is very good that the fans and coaches treat us that way. We love going back, whether it is basketball-related or just being in Manhattan around good energy and good people.”
He would love to win a few games for them this summer.
So far, the Purple and Black roster is expected to feature Thomas Gipson, Shane Southwell, Martavious Irving, Jamar Samuels and Henriquez. The team is actively recruiting other former K-State players, including Jacob Pullen, Lance Harris, Dominique Sutton and Akeem Wright.
“It’s early in the process and a lot of those guys are still in their professional seasons” Henriquez said. “We will see how it plays out. We will get nine or 10 guys to commit to the team and go from there.”
Henriquez mentioned former teammate Rodney McGruder, now with the Miami Heat, as a possible booster for the team. But, as an active NBA player, he won’t compete.
McGruder and Henriquez have talked about flying to Manhattan together this weekend. If both former players make it, they hope to interact with K-State’s current players.
“They made huge strides this year,” Henriquez said. “I’m glad they made the NCAA Tournament. They made a great push at the end of the season and got some key wins against great teams. It’s good to see Coach Weber is back for another season. He is a great coach and a good person on and off the floor.”
Chatting with other former players about South Carolina’s surprise run to the Final Four under Martin will be fun, too.
“Frank had a special team,” Henriquez said. “I can’t even call it a Cinderella, because I got the chance to watch them play last year and could tell how competitive and determined they were. You could see that coming.”
Pullen led K-State’s alumni team to a first-round victory at The Basketball Tournament last season, but Purple and Black bowed out soon after.
The team is hoping for a deeper run this summer.
“I feel really positive about us winning,” Henriquez said. “It’s just about clicking with each other and building chemistry. We have lots of that.”
Each victory carries added exposure. ESPN will broadcast the early rounds online, but will feature the later rounds on national television. A championship comes with $2 million, but second-place doesn’t get any prize money. It’s winner take all.
Since its creation in 2014, The Basketball Tournament has grown into a mainstream summer basketball event, but that’s not why Henriquez keeps organizing teams for it.
Reuniting with college teammates and reminiscing about their Elite Eight run in 2010 and their Big 12 championship in 2013 brought him the most joy a year ago.
“It was a great experience,” Henriquez said. “Being in the same place as my guys, playing basketball with them, having a good time, going to dinner and sharing memories from our college and professional careers, it was so much fun. It was a beautiful blessing.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett