Xavier Henry’s NBA Draft announcement comes with unexpected emotion

Kansas' Xavier Henry drives to the basket Texas A&M's David Loubeau in the first half. The University of Kansas and Texas A&M University squared off in the semifinal game of the Big 12 tournament Friday (March 12, 2010) in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas' Xavier Henry drives to the basket Texas A&M's David Loubeau in the first half. The University of Kansas and Texas A&M University squared off in the semifinal game of the Big 12 tournament Friday (March 12, 2010) in Kansas City, Mo. Kansas City Star

LAWRENCE — This was supposed to be predictable. Xavier Henry was going to declare for the 2010 NBA Draft. He was going to flash his aw-shucks teenage smile. He was going to thank some people for helping him accomplish his dream. And then he was going to get up from his seat and leave Kansas behind after one college season just like everybody figured he would all along.

On Wednesday, Henry did all of these things, yet he couldn't have been more unpredictable. Henry, who could have easily been misconstrued this season as an aloof 18-year-old waiting on his NBA payday, cried often while explaining his decision. He battled a runny nose and talked about his teammates and just how strong relationships can become during one year in a special place.

"I think for the people that really know me," Henry said, "they knew it'd be a tough decision either way. They know I love people, and they know once I start bonding with people that it's really hard for me to let go."

For those outside of Henry's circle, his words felt revelatory, as if Henry had waited for his last official day as a KU basketball player to introduce himself. But for his teammates and coaches, who showed their support of his decision by attending the announcement, he was just being Xavier.

"What you saw today was 'X,’æ” KU coach Bill Self said. “That's what we see all the time. You just don't see it during the 40 minutes in the game.

"He's very, very, very emotional. His cover-up sometimes to hide the emotion is just to smile and just kind of be noncommittal. But he's very emotional. Some guys you can tell what they're thinking by their appearance, and to me he was pretty stone-faced for the most part. He wasn't a rah-rah guy. Some people may have thought he wasn't enjoying himself as much as he was. I think he really loves it here."

Henry said he was undecided about leaving for much of the last few weeks. Self said it made him feel good to know that Henry, who said last summer that he considered playing professionally in Europe for a year because he didn't want to take classes, ended up struggling with the decision.

Still, Henry's destiny was to become the first player in KU history to declare for the draft after his freshman season and Self's first "one-and-done" player.

Henry was not the difference-maker on the way to a national championship that many hoped he would be, but he did average 13.4 points per game, placing him 13 points behind Danny Manning as the No. 2 freshman scorer in school history. Henry started every game for a team that went 33-3 and won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles.

"I think Coach prepared me as well as he can," Henry said. "He kept me confident throughout the whole season even when I went through slumps. He got my mind-set ready to be able to play with anybody. I think he did a great job doing that. I'm confident going in, and I want to go in there and kill it."

Henry said that he's been told he could go anywhere from the eighth pick to the 20th pick. No matter where he goes, he'll feel much more ready for the NBA experience than he would have a year ago.

"It helped me grow up," Henry said. "I'm thankful for that. I think I'm more prepared now than I really would have been in high school from a work-ethic standpoint and from a mind-set standpoint. That's what I gotta go into the world with."

Henry was thinking bigger than basketball on Wednesday. When asked about on-the-court accomplishments and memories, he often steered the conversation to the overall college experience.

"Honestly, I would rather be remembered for the person I was off the court, the fun-loving kid," Henry said. "I'm just a kid. I'm always smiling. I'm as nice as can be."

Nobody ever doubted that Henry was a nice kid. But because of his original signing with Memphis, his flirtation with Kentucky and his family's intention for him to reach the NBA as soon as possible, people naturally wondered how much he wanted to be in Lawrence. It seems he had no problem selling Self.

"I've told 'X' this: If my son would grow up and be like him from a spirit standpoint and a heart standpoint, then my wife and I would be ecstatic," Self said. "Because he has about as good a spirit and as good a heart as any kid I've ever coached. He is a pleaser. He wants to do what's right. He wants people to like him. He wants to make others happy."

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