Brandon Lilly: Putnam City's Henry appears ready for the next step - Sports Illustrated

Bracing for success

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"All the attention is alright, but my goal for the season is just to make my team and my teammates better than we are right now," said Henry, who is currently No. 21 in the Sports Illustrated/ high school basketball player rankings. "Rankings matter somewhat from a respect standpoint, but you always have to prove yourself."

Henry did that at the Bay Ball Classic holiday tournament in Lewes, Del., last month, as his versatility and scoring ability were on display. In the feature game of the event, Henry scored 37 points -- 26 in the second half -- to go along with 11 rebounds to lead Putnam City to an overtime victory over Pennsbury High of Fairless Hills, Pa., and its own ballyhooed junior sharpshooter Dalton Peppers.

"Even when we're in a tough game he's always got a smile on his face. He never tenses up and he almost welcomes the pressure," said Putnam City coach A.D. Burtschi. "Sometimes I feel like I can almost put music to his game, it's so fluid and beautiful. I really believe he is going to put his mark on this game wherever he ends up."

Without question, the strongest point in Henry's game is his three-point shooting ability. Tom Konchalski, editor of the High School Basketball Insider recruiting newsletter, calls Henry's range "intergalactic."

"He has the purest shot I've seen in high school basketball in years," Konchalski said. "He's a terrific athlete and he's already a better shooter than a lot of better shooters in the NBA."

For many players in Henry's position, the recruiting process would just be ramping up. But some believe that the race to retain his services may already be over. Henry's father, Carl, was the captain of the Kansas Jayhawks in 1983-84 -- Larry Brown's first year on the sidelines in Lawrence. His mother, the former Barbara Adkins, was also a basketball player at Kansas, leading to speculation that Xavier is a Jayhawk in waiting. In the lobby of a hotel in Lewes, Xavier was seen sporting a Kansas sweatshirt. But Henry insists that his recruitment is still open, and his current list also includes Memphis, North Carolina, Ohio State, and UCLA.

"The first thing coaches ask me when I sit down with them is whether or not I'm set on going to Kansas, and I always no," Henry said. "I have a couple of schools that I'm pretty high on like Memphis and North Carolina. They may even be ahead of Kansas at this point."

"[Kansas coach] Bill Self and I are good friends, but I'm also good friends with [Memphis coach] John Calipari and [North Carolina coach] Roy Williams," Carl Henry said. "Basically I just try to stay out of the way and let my kids choose what they want to do. I don't try to put any pressure on them."

The Henrys are no stranger to the recruiting circus. In 2005, Xavier's older brother, C.J., was a highly-regarded point guard who signed with Kansas, but ultimately decided to play baseball after being drafted in the first round by the New York Yankees. C.J. was such a highly-touted prospect with the Yankees that he became the centerpiece in the trade that brought former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu to the Bronx.

But C.J. has struggled at the plate in his two seasons in the minors, and there has been speculation that despite asking to be released by the Phillies organization and re-signing with the Yankees, the former point guard may be eyeing a return to college basketball. C.J. has downplayed the talk, saying that he is currently just focusing on baseball, but said that if he did return, he would like to go to a place like Kansas or Memphis.

"He told me that he was going to try to surprise everybody, so I'm thinking that he's going to try to play baseball and basketball," Carl Henry said. "If anybody can do it, he can do it."

"Right now, I think I'm just focusing on baseball," C.J. Henry said in a phone interview. "But you never know what can happen in the future."

In many ways, this season will be the calm before the storm for Xavier, Burtschi and Putnam City. This year, Xavier's reputation garnered the Pirates the invitation to the Delaware event, but next year, according to Burtschi, Putnam City travel itinerary will expand. The Pirates have signed on to participate in the HoopHall Tournament in Springfield, Mass., and are in negotiations to take part in a showcase event in Honolulu.

"A player like Xavier is great because he brings attention to your program," Burtschi said. "I tell his teammates, 'Listen, this guy is that good. There's a reason why we're being invited.' He has provided opportunities for our guys to go places they may never have gone. Before this trip, three-fourths of my guys had never flown on an airplane or seen the ocean. Already he is providing these guys opportunities."

For now, Henry's focus is on the present and bringing a state championship to Putnam City. He says that he'll probably make a decision about college sometime next summer, although he admitted that had the NBA not changed its requirements for entering the draft, he would be seriously considering turning pro at the end of next year.

"I don't really think about the NBA at all right now," Henry said. "Right now, I'm just looking forward to going to college, wherever that may be. Seriously, I can't wait."