Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Will Somebody Get the Kid a (Couple Million) Happy Meal(s)?

That's John Henson, the 6'10", (supposedly) 195-lb. freshman forward for North Carolina. He was supposed to be an all-everything recruit, a McDonald's All-American ready to lead a highly touted UNC freshman class to the top of the ACC. We all know that didn't happen. UNC struggled, and early on, Henson struggled to find minutes with a talented bevy of more experienced frontcourt players ahead of him, namely Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and Deon Thompson. It didn't help that Henson's extremely slight stature prevented him from banging down low.

But, as North Carolina's season has worn on, and as the team struggled with injuries, Henson has seen more time. And with more time, we've all been able to see his vast potential. No, he's not lighting up the world, but when Tyler Zeller was on the shelf, Henson showcased great shot-blocking ability (he's averaging 1.6 blocks a game) and the ability to run the floor. And since Ed Davis went down with a broken wrist, Henson has slowly been gaining confidence as the season has worn on.

Now in the NIT, he's beginning to resemble the player North Carolina expected to see. In the opening game against William & Mary, Henson complemented Deon Thompson's beastly 20-8 performance with 9 points and 10 rebounds, having a strong influence on the game even while only attempting six shots. Of his 10 boards, six came on the offensive end, giving the Tar Heels six extra possessions all by himself. Defensively, he blocked two shots to continue to up his average and nabbed a steal. And he showed world-class athleticism against a team that lacked as much.

Against Mississippi State and NCAA all-time leading shot blocker Jarvis Varnado, Henson did even better, notching three blocks of his own to keep pace with Varnado's four. And he opened it up more offensively, scoring 12 points on 6-11 from the field, hauling in 8 boards, dishing three assists and nabbing two steals. He did all this against a very athletic Mississippi St. team, showing he wasn't just exploiting less athletic players against William & Mary. In fact, he had a much more impressive all-around game against the Bulldogs.

Then last night, in UNC's 60-55 win over UAB to advance to the semifinals in Madison Square Garden, Henson scored 14 points on 7-11 of the field, doing most of his damage down the stretch. Now, he didn't have the overall impact he had from start to finish in the first two games, finishing with just three rebounds and one block, but he really established himself in the second half, especially the closing minutes, and led UNC to victory. He earned himself a happy meal.

God knows he could use one a million of them. While Henson has certainly come alive here in the NIT, he absolutely has to find a way to put one weight. He won't be able to display his full range of abilities if he doesn't get stronger. This isn't high school anymore, and he's not the all-around scoring machine the thin Kevin Durant was in college. He needs to bulk up.

I suggest he go on the Tyler Hansbrough diet of eating a ton of meals all day. At the very least, he should start out with a couple trips to McDonald's … and a ton of time in the weight room.

BallHype: hype it up!

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