"Stuff that nobody else was doing,” said C.J., one of the most ballyhooed high school athletes in Oklahoma during the past decade. "We tried to get the edge any way we could.” Carl gave the boys a steady stream of coaching and correction. "You can do that better,” Carl would say. "I thought I did it real good,” Xavier would reply. "You can do that better.” That sort of pressure used to weigh on Xavier. Even now, Carl will give hand signals during the game to let Xavier know he needs to pick up his game, to do better. Xavier always listened and learned; Carl had played in the pros, after all. "I don't know how he handles it,” Carl said, "being C.J.'s younger brother, then all the pressure that I put on him. This basketball deal's like second nature.”
North Carolina. Memphis. Kansas.
There were other lessons that Xavier learned from C.J. The brothers waged basketball battles in the driveway.
"I never wanted to play him,” Xavier said. "He'd always make me.”
C.J. never took it easy on his younger brother. Never took a play off either. Those lessons stuck with Xavier, cemented by his blood and his tears.
Not until last year did Xavier finally beat C.J., and even then, it was only a one-point victory.
Still, big brother saw the fruits of little brother's labor.
"I just think he's worked so hard on the stuff that me and my dad have put him through ... it's just easy to him,” said C.J., now a minor-league prospect with the Philadelphia Phillies. "He knows that if he's in a tough spot, there's no worries.
"The stuff he does on the court is just beyond his years.”
Beyond his yearsXavier Henry has basketball in his blood. And it's not just his mom, dad and brother. His aunt starred with his mom at Northeast and John Marshall high schools, then went on to Kansas. Vickie Adkins' name still dots the Jayhawk record books, ranking in the top five of just about every major offensive category. More recently, Henry's uncle played at Oklahoma State. Joe Adkins helped lead the Cowboys to the Elite Eight in 2000. Some might look at that lineage and see expectations. Henry saw opportunities. He could hear stories, ask questions and immerse himself in the game he loves. "He's just been used to it for so long,” his cousin and Putnam City teammate Brandon Jackson said. "He knows C.J. was a great player, his dad was a great player, but he knows he's a good player and he's going to try to be a better player.” And he's taken plenty of cues from those around him who've played before him. A few years ago, Xavier watched his brother being recruited. Everyone expected C.J. to be picked highly in the baseball draft — the New York Yankees ultimately selected him 17th overall in 2004 — but he was still being courted as a basketball player. He narrowed his list only at the very end. That meant a never-ending stream of calls and letters from recruiters. Xavier saw the headaches that caused, and now, even though he says he hasn't eliminated any school from contention, he definitely has favorites.
Still smilingDespite all that Xavier Henry has learned, there was one lesson from his brother than never took. "Man, look hard,” C.J. would say. "Quit smiling so much.” Xavier shrugged and, of course, smiled. "That's just how I am,” he said. Don't let the smile fool you. Henry is happy, but he is hardly content. He has serious goals, plans and dreams. There's the state championship this weekend, then the start of club basketball next weekend. One could cement his legend in the state, the other his status in the country. "I always want to be known as the best,” he said, "and I'm not the best. Or that's what they say.” Recruiting gurus rank him behind Los Angeles big man Renardo Sidney. "If they say I'm the No. 1 player in the nation, then I'll be all right,” Henry said. "If they don't say it ... ” His words trailed, as if that outcome were impossible. "Sometimes, I have to sit back and say, ‘Man, this guy's only 16 years old,'” his father said. "A lot of people expect it from him. He just keeps smiling.”