John Henson is ready to make a splash in the League.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
When John Henson went down and stayed down with a wrist injury during the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, the hopes and wishes of a Tar Heels National Championship took an enormous blow. Sure, the SLAM cover boys were loaded with talent and still made a deep run in the Tournament, but the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year may have propelled the team to the Final Four had he been fully healthy.
While the junior admirably played through the injury, it was clear that he wasn’t even close to his normal self. “My wrist is just getting back to normal right now,” Henson says. “I tried my hardest to play through it and I even got [cortisone] shots for the last game. It was tough, and we fought hard but we didn’t play to our full capabilities. It would have been tough regardless, but that’s how it goes.”
Though Henson’s goals and aspirations weren’t fully reached during his college tenure, he is one of the lucky few to have a very bright future in the NBA. The surefire first rounder and potential lottery pick has all the intangibles to succeed on the hardwood and his talent is obvious, but it’s his maturity and smarts off the floor that may impress scouts the most come pre-Draft workouts.
The former Tar Heel was thought to be a lottery pick during last year’s supposed “weak” Draft, but the then 20-year-old turned down millions of dollars to return to school and grow up a little bit. “I thought I needed to work on a few things and get stronger,” Henson says. “I was also less mature both on and off the court. I had my own apartment and started paying the bills and stuff like that… You have to be mature in the way you handle things both on and off the court at the next level and I think that’s what I needed to work on more than anything.”
While he felt obliged to stay at Carolina after his sophomore year, once his highly touted teammates Kendall Marshall, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes opted to leave for the Draft, the writing was on the wall for Henson: It was time for him to take his game to the next level.
“I felt like, as a player, I was ready to take my game to the next level and I was comfortable with myself,” says Henson of his decision to leave school. “When those guys (Marshall, Zeller, Barnes) left, it felt like it was time for me to go. We gave it our best shot and tried to win last year and unfortunately we didn’t come out on top… but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.”
For hoop heads, it will be fun to watch Henson and Co. as they begin their respective journeys into the NBA on Draft night and unsurprisingly, the young ballers are looking forward to playing against each other on the big stage.
“It’s going to be interesting because with Kendall, Harrison, Z and me, we all know each other’s games and favorite moves,” Henson says. “We played with each other so long, I’m sure we’ll be able to give our teams advice on how to guard them… it’s going to be fun.”
But before Henson can go head-to-head with his Tar Heel brethren, he has to get through pre-Draft workouts and interviews—a process that can make or break a young player. To help him with that process, Henson has turned to former NBA coach and player John Lucas. Lucas, who has been around the game for much of his life, is helping Henson get ready for the rigors of the NBA and has been working out the former Tar Heel on both ends of the court.
Defensively, Henson should be able to contribute to a team right away thanks to his impressive 7-6 wingspan and his knack for blocking shots and grabbing boards. Offensively, he has the tools to become a solid post player thanks to his length and unorthodox lefty hook shot, but until he adds some bulk to his wiry frame, he will have to use his quickness to get around bigger defenders.
“One thing we’re working a lot on is facing up and using my foot speed,” Henson says. “Obviously I’m not the heaviest guy you’ve ever seen [laughs], so I’m working on facing up, going around my guy, making moves and creating space… This is probably the hardest I’ve worked, but it’s fun and I can feel myself getting better.”
When John Henson hears his name called on Draft night, it will surely be one of the shining moments of his early life. Mature beyond his years and blessed with immense talent, he has the potential to be a long-term piece for a franchise and one of the better defensive big men in the League as his career progresses.
“I think I’ll be able to bring a defensive presence and be able to change the game without having the ball in my hands which is something that most players can’t really say then can do,” Henson says. “There’s a lot of great offensive players, but there’s not a lot of great defensive players and that’s something I have going for me and I’ll be able to help teams immediately.”