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Even Bill Self is singing Xavier Henry’s praises

BY JOHN HELSLEY, Staff Writer, Published: February 27, 2010
STILLWATER – Xavier Henry’s introduction to college basketball was served, not received.

In a season-opening rout of Hofstra, Henry struck for 27 points, a Kansas record for a freshman in his debut and a suggestion that this whole next-level transition thing might not be all that. To which Jayhawks coach Bill Self offered up a warning.

"I told him after the game that it was a freshman record and congratulations,” Self said, "but not to get too cocky.”

Well, 27 games later, as Henry dares to go where no KU freshman has gone, even Self can’t help but prop up the Putnam City product.

"The last four games, he’s been as good a player as we’ve had on our team,” Self said — before Monday night’s slaying of Oklahoma, when Henry dropped 23 on the Sooners.

The old-home-week tour continues today for Henry, when the No. 1 Jayhawks visit Oklahoma State for a 3:05 tip inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.

And Henry arrives with no sign of lugging an inflated ego.

Adding a fresh attitude to the mix could have been a dicey proposition for a KU team that returned a talented veteran nucleus in search of championships. With Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich forming an All-Big 12 core and more key pieces in place some eight roster spots deep, the Jayhawks might have navigated a Final Four run without any tinkering.

Yet in came Henry, a 6-foot-6 guard who’s arguably the most highly touted recruit of the Self era, requiring playing time for what was perceived to be a one-and-done stay.

And Henry has more than fit in.

"That was one of the things I had to do when I came in, just get comfortable with everybody,” Henry said, "playing with everybody and learning how they play and how they like to play and how I can help them, and how they can help me with my game as well.

"It’s been pretty good so far. We’re still working on it.”

More to the point, Henry is working with his teammates. And he’s working for his teammates, as a key component in KU’s quest for an undefeated Big 12 season and, of course, much more.

Averaging 13.9 points per game, Henry is the Jayhawks’ second-leading scorer. At times, he’s carried the club. And with his recent surge, following a stretch of shooting struggles, he’s making a move at KU’s freshman scoring record.

On a list that’s a Who’s Who of Jayhawks greats, Henry’s 389 points ranks No. 6, just three points behind No. 5 Darnell Valentine and 15 behind No. 4 Paul Pierce. And he’s within sight of No. 1 Danny Manning, who scored 496 his freshman year.

"(Henry’s) been terrific for them,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford.

There was a point in the season where Henry seemed to have hit the freshman wall.


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