This recruiting saga had more twists and turns than a Six Flags rollercoaster.
Three years worth of recruiting and two years of drama finally came
full circle on Thursday for Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks when 6-6
swingman Xavier Henry announced he would indeed play for KU next
Self's battle over Henry with then Memphis head coach – now Kentucky
head coach - John Calipari turned out similarly to the national
championship game last year. For most of the game it looked like
Calipari had the edge but in the end Self again came through and stole
away the ultimate prize.
Last summer strong rumors surfaced that Henry was a strong Memphis lean
so no one was surprised when he donned the Tigers' cap on November 18,
2008 displaying his college choice on ESPNU. Self admitted he was
"crushed" by the decision but "understood" that attending KU might not
have been best for the family at the time. It appeared John Calipari
had won this battle - but as we all know now, it wasn't over.
When Billy Gillispie was ousted at Kentucky Calipari took the leap to
the upper tier program and took the chance the Henry brothers, Xavier
and C.J. would not come along for the ride. Once Cal took over in
Lexington, both coaches were again locked in a head-to-head duel for
the services of Xavier and likely his brother C.J.
The last month or so every day seemed to bring a new rumor which just
fueled more and more speculation. The Henrys were visiting Kentucky,
they weren't. They were going to KU, they might not. It tested the
patience of Kansas fans. Xavier and C.J.'s father Carl was entertaining
the questions but not always delivering succinct answers. No one REALLY
knew what Xavier would do until Tuesday night when multiple sources
were confirming the decision was to attend Kansas.
Later on Thursday, older brother C.J. made his own announcement and
joined Xavier saying he would also choose Kansas. C.J. will not take up
a scholarship at KU and could provide valuable minutes as a backup
point guard for next year's Jayhawks squad. Judging by Self's comments
in a teleconference earlier in the day, there are rules in place that
should allow C.J. to play for KU next season. Self cannot comment
directly on Henry until he is enrolled at KU.
Meanwhile, Xavier could be the missing piece for Kansas next season. He
could be the consistent swingman KU sorely missed at times last season.
He's not as smooth as Brandon Rush was but he makes up for it with
freakish strength, and explosiveness. His body is NBA-ready and his
game is too. His ability to take the hit in traffic and still finish is
one of his most impressive assets. Very few opposing guards will be
able to match his strength and versatility.
"Few players in high school possess the body, the strength, the
explosion, and the outside perimeter shooting ability that Xavier has.
You gotta defend him wherever he is on the floor," said Self praising
the 30th McDonald's All-American KU has signed.
"Xavier is a legitimate impact guy," according to scout.com National
Recruiting Director, Dave Telep. "This is a major piece in the national
championship run Kansas is hoping to make. He's the guy who can bust
the big three, has the championship frame and a winning edge to his
But is he a one-and-done? Seems hard to fathom at this stage it takes
this type of time and effort to recruit a one-and-done but ask
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim if it is worth it. If Xavier can deliver a
Carmelo Anthony like year – meaning winning the title as a freshmen and
then going pro – no one in the KU camp could/would complain.
"I don't know," said Self when asked if Xavier was one-and-done. I
think he certainly has potential to be that and I wouldn't stand in his
way from being that. Based on my talks with him his whole deal is ‘I
want to go to college, I want to be a college kid, I want to go help us
win, and when the time's right we'll know it's right', but I
don't think his focus will be that at all."
Self admitted recruiting for 2009 was likely done and that it was time
to focus on some underclassmen. The Henry's join an ‘09 recruiting
class that also includes 6-10 center Jeff Withey, who transferred from
Arizona, 6-2 guard Elijah Johnson, and 6-8 forward Thomas Robinson.
They will join an ever-improving young crop of talent and two veterans
in Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Looking down the roster it's tough
to NOT make a case for this team being a clear cut number one. Much
like two years ago, Self will bring an extremely talented team with
high expectations into a season. Keeping the egos in check on that team
was never an issue and Self again believes that will again be the
"That won't be a problem because guys like to win," Self stated.
Balance is a theory Self has always preached and unselfishness is a
must at KU. Year-in and year-out Self's teams rank near the top in the
NCAA in assists. One of the more popular topics of discussion
between Self and his players is that if you do the right things in
order for us to have success then the rest of it will take care of
itself. He somehow gets 18-19-20 year old kids with NBA aspirations to
buy into that and it has certainly paid dividends for the program and
the kids. The four players with national championship rings playing NBA
minutes this season (Sasha Kaun is playing in Russia professionally)
are living proof the theory works.
"With Sherron, Cole, and Xavier's scoring potential I think you're
going to have our leading scorer score quite a bit more than 13," said
Self referring to KU's leading scorer back in 2007-08 Brandon Rush
(12.5 ppg), "but still I think balance wins. I'm not concerned yet
about having enough balls. I think you have one ball and we've got some
unselfish guys and I know they like to win and I think we'll be much
harder to guard this year than we were last year."
Though Kansas made it to the Sweet Sixteen and earned a league title,
Self knew there was room for improvement for a team that finished 27-8.
"We had some needs to address even though this team was pretty good
last year and won the league. We still had some needs to address and
through our recruitment I think we were able to address those needs,"
Tough to not salivate over the lineup possibilities Self will have at
his disposal next year but it does seem crowded. The AP
National Coach of the Year did not discount the idea of redshirting
someone on this year's team. Minutes will be hard to come by and you
know there will be quality players who may not get the amount of
minutes they may warrant. Self confirmed he will do what is best for
the program and each individual.
Self once again proved you can never count him out of a producing a
quality recruiting class and he could be hands down the best late
season recruiter in the game right now. He's come up with plenty of
surprises and always seems to find a way to get a guy that makes his
KU head coach Bill Self called the signing of Xavier a "big break in
our favor" that he felt fortunate to be on this side of.
Sometimes you make your own breaks being at the right place at the
"As disappointed as we were before, we're probably even more happy
now," concluded Self.
Both Henrys Headed to Lawrence
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