LAWRENCE — Just when Xavier Henry was being asked the question on many Kansas fans' minds these days — does he ever think of just putting his head down and going to the basket? —Sherron Collins walked by.
"Nah, that's that man's job right there," Henry said, nodding toward Collins.
Why is it Collins' job and not his?
"Well," Henry said, "he's a senior, he's a team leader, he's been here longer and he's a great player."
Henry has apparently decided that it's best he defer to Collins. And, while Henry is projected as a lottery pick in this summer's NBA Draft and Collins is not, it's easy to see why Henry would take a step back in Lawrence. After all, it was just a few days ago that KU coach Bill Self reaffirmed his belief that Collins "impacts the college game more than any player I've ever coached."
Henry, a highly-recruited guard out of Oklahoma City, is not the best player on his own team for the first time in his life. At some point this season, he realized that.
"This is Sherron's team," Henry said.
Early on, that wasn't as obvious as it is now. Henry was leading the Jayhawks in scoring, making more than 50 percent of his three-pointers and dropping 31 on La Salle at the Sprint Center. Collins was the one deferring, in the name of team chemistry and doing whatever he could to inch his name up the all-time KU wins list.
But against Cornell on Jan. 6, at the first true sign of adversity since the Memphis game, Collins put the Jayhawks on his back and went off for 33 points. Henry marveled at Collins after that one.
"We got out of the way," Henry said.
Since then, Henry has mostly stayed out of the way. In the loss at Tennessee, he scored 10 points, taking seven shots (two in the second half). At Nebraska, Henry scored six points (his lowest output of the season) and most alarming was that he didn't shoot a free throw. Against Texas Tech on Saturday, Henry had 14 points and five assists, but he made just 4 of 11 shots and 2 of 6 from three-point range.
Shockingly, given Henry's sweet three-point stroke, two of those long misses were air-balls.
"Never in my life," Henry said. "Before that, never. So, first experience, got it out of the way. I didn't know what I was doing wrong. We haven't looked at the tape of it. Maybe I just thought the goal was a little farther (away)."
Henry says the air-balls are not a big deal, and he's probably right, as long as he follows through on what he's been taught by his father, Carl, his whole life.
"To just keep shooting and make the next one," Henry said.
Collins can only hope that Henry doesn't defer too much.
"I tell him to shoot the ball," Collins said with a knowing chuckle, "stop thinking and go play. I think he just wants to do so good, and when he doesn't do good, he probably kind of gets disappointed in himself.
"I don't do everything I want to do. I can't get disappointed because everybody else will follow. I can't let anyone see me pouting. It's the same way for him. He doesn't know it, but he's kind of a leader as well."
Even early in the season, when Henry's shot was falling, he talked openly about trying to fit in with this team. He did not want his teammates to ever think that he was a ball-hog.
Thing is, with an NBA-ready body at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Henry can do more to influence the college game than just fire away from deep. In his best performance against La Salle, he drove to the basket often and got to the free-throw line nine times, making seven. Since La Salle, Henry has averaged 11.8 points per game (down from 18) and has had his three lowest scoring outputs this season.
"He's always equated good play on scoring and making shots," Self said. "To me, that's an insult. If you have to make shots to play well... there's so much more to the game. He should be as good a rebounding small forward as there is in the country, as physically gifted as he is. He can become a much better offensive rebounder."
Against Texas Tech, Henry followed up a miss for a one-handed slam.
"He should get one of those a game," Self said.
The expectations have always been there for Henry, and they don't appear to be weighing him down. The time will come when the Jayhawks will need him to explode for a lot of points, but until then, he is trying to become more well-rounded.
"Just keep playing defense, keep my head in the game and keep making plays," Henry said. "All I care about is winning."