LAWRENCE — Some of the best freshmen over the years have made their names by leading their teams deep into March with big scoring nights and eye-popping numbers. Undoubtedly, that will be the task ahead for Kentucky freshman John Wall if the Wildcats are to reach their potential, just as it was for Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse and Derrick Rose at Memphis, to name a few.
But what about Kansas' Xavier Henry? Is the Jayhawks' second-leading scorer ready to explode under the spotlight of this tell-all month? KU senior Sherron Collins was introduced to this premise and clearly gave it some thought before answering. He seemed to think it was the wrong kind of question regarding Henry.
"I think Xavier's gonna play good," Collins said. "Breaking out... I think he's been fine. He's scoring the ball well and doing a lot of things for us, rebounding the ball, getting offensive rebounds. He's just helping us from every element on the floor. As long as he keeps playing the way he's been playing, we'll be all right."
In other words, Collins believes that Henry has already settled into his proper role for the top-ranked Jayhawks. They have enough talent in Bill Self's eight-man rotation that no player should need to break out regardless of whether Henry is capable of an explosion or not.
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Certainly, Collins' response suits Henry just fine. Ever since he arrived on campus as the most-anticipated Kansas freshman since Wilt or Danny, Henry has tried to blend in as best he can.
"Since I got here, I've learned a whole bunch about the team concept and learned to play on both ends," Henry said. "I really grew as a player, so I just want to showcase all those skills and talents at the end."
Notice Henry used the past tense of the word grow. Barring a surprise decision to come back to school for his sophomore season, Henry's time spent growing his game in Lawrence is coming to a close. Henry was the first true one-and-done recruit that KU coach Bill Self has brought to campus, and the experiment has been beneficial for both sides.
Getting Henry to switch from Memphis to Kansas after John Calipari left for Kentucky meant that Self would have a natural scorer on the wing — something he didn't have in 2008-09 after Brandon Rush left a year early for the NBA.
Henry started off hot, scoring in double figures in his first 11 games and leading the Jayhawks in scoring. He then cooled considerably during the start of Big 12 play, going five straight games in the single digits. It was at that point that Henry realized he had to impact the game in other ways.
"That definitely opened my eyes to new things," Henry said. "I don' t think it was really that tough for me. People probably thought it was because of how I play and they know I like to score. But I just kept my mind focused on doing everything else, so I was always feeling productive."
Sure enough, Henry ran off seven-straight double-figure performances to start the second half of league play. He finished the season averaging 13.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals (for perspective, Rush averaged 13.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.8 steals in 2008).
"There was no point in time where I doubted myself or anything," Henry said. "I always knew I'd come back."
With 65 points the rest of the way, Henry would pass Danny Manning (496) as the top KU freshman total point scorer in a season (Manning averaged 14.6 a game in 1985).
But Henry doesn't appear to be gunning for anything other than nine more victories for Kansas.
"It's gonna be a fun and exciting time for the whole team," Henry said. "It'll be a great atmosphere. We know what we've been working for this whole year, saving up for now. That's what we're gonna put our energy into."