Last year, no player in the ACC disappointed me more than John Henson. Of course, I should shoulder some of the blame on this one. My expectations were probably a tad too high (I had the kid winning Freshman of the Year over Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors). after watching the McDonald’s All-American game and a couple of high school highlight reels.
The fact is, there were times last year when John Henson did not look good. He looked like me if I was randomly placed into a Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightly photo shoot …weak and overmatched. Luckily for him, the reason was simple—the kid was just too damn skinny.
At (a long) 6'10", John was officially 195 pounds, but I’m going to assume Roy Williams had a foot on the scale, because the freshman looked like he could blow over if the crowd decided to do the wave. Time and time again, opposing big men bounced Henson around.
Once the Tar Heels stumbled into ACC play, Henson was drifting outside the paint, pretending to be a (tall) small forward. Someone probably should have told him he needed an outside shot to be a small forward in this league.
The fact is, as the season rolled along, Henson looked like a man with no home in Carolina’s offense. His playing time dropped. He went three weeks without seeing double-digit minutes on the floor. During a five-game stretch in January, he scored a total of seven points, grabbing only four rebounds. Yes, you read that correctly, seven points, four rebounds total in five games.
Yet as Carolina’s season crumbled and injuries shredded the Tar Heels front court, Coach Williams had no choice but to get the skinny kid back on the floor. Slowly, but surely the playing time began to pay off. In fact, he might have been one of the better players in North Carolina’s N.I.T. run.
Now I know as a Duke fan, just writing a sentence with the words “Carolina” and “N.I.T.” makes me chuckle, but it’s the reason why Henson is up so high on this list. Let’s go ahead and revisit the end of the year, even before the N.I.T., starting February 10 at home against the Blue Devils no less.
From that moment, North Carolina would play 14 more games and Henson would play 20+ minutes in all but one. In those 14 games, Henson would shot .500 from the floor (57-114), averaging about 9.3 ppg.
More importantly, Henson really started to insert himself on the glass and on the defensive end. His rebounding total shot up from 2.3 rpg in his first 23 games to 7.9 in his final 14 games.
On the defensive side of the ball, he blocked 25 shots in his first 23 games. In his final 14, he swatted away 32 (2.3 blocks per game).
Most impressively, he did all this without ever getting into serious foul trouble. He picked up three fouls or more four times, never fouling out.
Those last 14 games showed that the talent is there. We all saw it. The athletic ability is there. Opponents trying to shoot over him saw first hand his ability to get up and stay up. The kid simply needs two things to take that next step: weight/muscle and experience
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