The smile spread quickly across Xavier Henry's face.
An area finals victory was sure, a state tournament berth secure. As that reality dawned on the Putnam City High School superstar last week in the game's final moments, he didn't hold back his emotions.
Henry smiles like it's going out of style. Running onto the court for warm-ups, he smiled. Meeting with the refs before the game, he smiled. Huddling with teammates, talking to coaches, facing the most important game of the season — yep, smiles all around.
Even when he got bumped by a Westmoore player on his way to the bench, he still responded with a smile.
You'd smile, too, if you were ranked by basketball recruiting gurus as the second-best junior in the country. Then, there are the calls and the letters from Memphis and Kansas and North Carolina, not to mention the close ties with the head coaches at all three schools, bonds formed out of his father's days as a Jayhawk.
Then again, the 6-foot-6 swingman put on a happy face long before the recruiting world elevated him to super stardom .
"He's always done that,” Henry's father said. "I don't care how hard the game is.”
His brother said, "Even when stuff is going bad, he'll still be out there smiling.”
You know those cold, stoic looks you see from most players?
Xavier Henry has a different game face.
"I'm a smiley-type guy, I guess,” he said, smiling. "I'm always just loose. I'm never really ever serious.”
His game is a different story.
Henry has the most serious game in the state. The sweet-shooting, smooth-moving swingman is averaging 26.2 points for top-ranked Putnam City entering today's first-round showdown with Tulsa Memorial in the Class 6A state tournament.
The buzz around him began in middle school, maybe even before. Then the summer before his freshman year at Putnam City, he was invited to the Nike All-American Camp. No other freshman scored an invite to the prestigious camp that summer.
Now, the junior is ranked by most recruiting services and gurus as the second-best player in the Class of 2009.
Odd as it may seem, Henry's sunny attitude is one of the main reasons for his serious game.
This is a kid, after all, who sprouted from not one but two family trees with deep basketball roots. He came to love the sport played so well before him by his brother, mother, father, aunt and uncle.
Talk about expectations.
Heck, even his name draws attention. Its spelling is common. Its pronunciation is not — za-vee-A.
"He has a great personality to keep that all in perspective,” Putnam City coach A.D. Burtschi said. "I'm telling you, the kid's goofy.”
Loose player.Tight game.
Xavier Henry was born in Ghent, Belgium.
Even though both of his parents are from Oklahoma — Carl graduated from U.S. Grant, Barbara from John Marshall — basketball took them overseas. Carl played briefly in the NBA after a standout college career at Kansas, where Barbara also played basketball. He eventually signed with a professional team in Belgium.
One of the team trainers was named Xavier. Carl and Barbara liked the unique punctuation so much that they chose it for their second son. It was distinctive. It was different.
It was a sign of things to come.
Henry never wanted to be like the rest of the kids.
"He used to always want to be the tallest,” Barbara said. "He always wanted to have the biggest foot. He had a complex one year because a little girl was taller than him.”
Those details remain fresh in Xavier's mind.
"Second grade,” he said. "Danielle.”
He's now a sculpted 6-6.
"I outgrew her.”
Such competitiveness was all but mandatory in the Henry household.
Carl demanded much from both of his boys. Xavier had yet to start elementary school when his father taught him to use his off hand. Dribbling and shooting with the left was great, but Carl pushed him to do the same with his right.
Then when the boys got a little older, Carl would wake them before sunrise, 5 or 6 o'clock. They'd jump rope and lift weights in the garage, run sprints on a hill near the house, then go to the gym to shoot.