It was a late afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse in 1983 or ‘84 when I saw Carl Henry create his magic.
The exact year escapes me, but it was either the last season of Ted
Owens' KU coaching career (Henry's junior year at Kansas in ‘83) or
coach Larry Brown's first year at Mount Oread of Henry's senior
Practice was over this day and all the players had left the court.
All but Henry.
As I watched from the balcony bleachers, assistant coach John Calipari
repeatedly fed rapid fire passes to Henry, who shot jumpers around the
perimeter. Shot after shot, swish after swish. Finally, after several
minutes, Henry started breathing heavier and tugged at his shorts near
the right baseline.
Calipari knew KU's star player was getting winded.
"Carl Henry doesn't get tired," Calipari barked.
So Henry kept on shooting. And he kept on swishing shots over and over
Twenty-five years later, Henry's sons, Xavier and C.J., will now be
shooting jumpers at Allen Fieldhouse. Xavier, of course, signed a
grant-in-aid with Kansas in April after he was let out of his letter of
intent with Memphis when Calipari bolted the school to take the
Kentucky job. And C.J. will transfer from Memphis where he was a
redshirt freshman guard last season.
While there was some recent drama involving the players' commitment to
Kansas, that should now be finally put to rest after Xavier texted a
Kansas City radio station (610 Sports) during the late evening on June
"I'm goin' to Kansas, and that's final," Xavier wrote.
I was thrilled with a sense of closure to this recruitment. Sure, I'm
excited to land C.J. and Xavier, the 6-6 standout wing and Scout's No.
6 rated player in the Class of 2009, but also overjoyed to see Carl
Henry being reunited with his alma mater.
Henry was one of my all-time favorite Jayhawks, an unsung star who led
KU in scoring his junior (17.4 ppg) and senior seasons (16.8 ppg) after
transferring from Oklahoma City. He was a 6-6 swingman who could score
and rebound with the best, a do-it-all player who found seemingly every
offensive rebound near the bucket.
For me, he was poetry in motion moving without the ball, a lost art in
today's game. Henry was always running off screens to get open and
virtually automatic within 15 to 17 feet. He wasn't a great long-range
gunner and didn't have especially great leaping or athletic ability,
but Henry was the consummate basketball player who was also graceful, a
good ballhandler, solid defender, and a tireless and dedicated athlete.
He was a true warrior who simply got it done.
I often referred to Henry and his former teammate Kelly Knight as the
heart and soul of those two Jayhawk teams in 1982-83 and 1983-84. But
Henry shined brightest of all, the face of Kansas basketball just
before Danny Manning walked on campus in the fall of 1984.
Henry was never better on March 10, 1984, scoring a career-high 30
points to lead KU to a 79-78 upset victory over Oklahoma in the Big
Eight Tournament championship and earning the Jayhawks an NCAA berth
for the first time in three years.
"That was a really good game," Henry told me in a Where Are They Now?
interview for Jayhawk Insider in December of 1999. "That sticks out."
It was the start of a magical run for KU basketball. Except for the
1988-89 probation season when the Jayhawks were banned from postseason
play, Kansas has been in the Big Dance ever since.
After beating OU that memorable March evening in ‘84, KU then defeated
Alcorn State in the first round of the NCAA's before falling to Wake Forest, marking the end of Henry's two-year career. But he left a
lasting mark, averaging 17.1 points for his career while shooting a
sizzling 55 percent from the field.
Henry actually ranks No. 8 in career scoring average in KU history and
No. 3 in career scoring average for two-year players behind Wilt
Chamberlain and Wayne Hightower.
Pretty elite company, indeed.
He is also tied for No. 14 at KU in career field goal percentage. A
second-team All-Big Eight selection in 1983 and first-team pick in
1984, I always thought Henry was one of the most underrated players in
Besides the Oklahoma game, he said his favorite memory was his
game-winning buzzer-beating turnaround baseline jumper over Eddie Elder
and K-State in Manhattan two weeks earlier on Feb. 25, 1984.
"K-State Stunned By Final Basket," read the headline the following day
in the Lawrence Journal-World.
That shot was a momentum changer and helped spark KU the rest of the
season. After losing its next game to Colorado by two points, KU went
on a five-game winning streak before its loss to Wake Forest in the
NCAA tournament. Kansas finished 22-10 in Brown's first season in
1983-84, a dramatic turnaround from the 13-16 record the previous year
Henry enjoyed playing for both Owens and Brown. He talked about the
team's transformation under Brown.
"Coach Owens was the same as Larry Brown — a nice guy," Henry said.
"But Larry Brown to me was more structured. It was getting everybody
involved. That's how we were able to win more games. With coach Owens,
a lot of new guys came in, a lot of young guys — Kerry
Boagni, Calvin Thompson, and Ron Kellogg. We were all trying to blend
in. We tried to play as a team, but we were all new. I believe the
difference was that coach Brown had us thinking more as a unit."
Brown had high praise for Henry.
"Carl Henry is a great player," Brown said in 1983. "He shoots well and
has good court sense. The thing I like best about him though is that he
is an unselfish player and is constantly looking for the open man."
Henry, who was a fourth-round draft pick by the Kansas City Kings (they
moved to Sacramento), wound up having a successful professional career
playing in the CBA, WBL, and overseas. He also achieved his NBA dream
in 1985-86 when he made the Kings' roster.
Henry averaged 2.8 points in 28 games under head coach Phil Johnson. He
scored a career-high 18 points against Boston, which won the NBA
championship that season.
"I was playing against guys that I always saw play on TV. I got to meet
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson," said Henry, adding he loved "scoring,
playing defense, running up and down, basically enjoying yourself."
"It was everything I thought it would be, but I had a different kind of
coach," Henry added of Johnson. "He didn't like rookies. You showed up
and you play."
After his season with Sacramento, Henry next had a summer stint in the
WBL with Fresno, where he was reunited with coach Owens. Henry enjoyed
playing for Owens again, excelling in the 6-5-and-under league and
leading his team to the playoffs.
"It kind of made it easier for me because I had already knew him and
played under him," Henry said. "I knew what to expect. It was kind of a
good deal for me."
Henry also played in the CBA with Rockford, Puerto Rico and Cincinnati,
and had a five-year career in Europe. His career ended in 1993 when he
tore his ACL. After rehabbing, Henry said his interest in playing had
waned and he wasn't able to give 100 percent anymore.
"That was it for me."
So he returned to native Oklahoma City with his wife, Barbara Adkins,
and raised C.J. and Xavier. Barbara actually played basketball at KU
(1982-85) during Carl's time there, and was an influential reason
(along with then-KU assistant JoJo White) why he transferred to Kansas
from Oklahoma City after head coach Ken Trickey was fired after the
The entire Henry-Adkins family has great basketball bloodlines. Barbara
and her younger sister, Vickie Adkins-Summers, were teammates at KU.
Barbara was a hard working forward who averaged 8.0 points and 5.0
rebounds during her career, while Vickie made her mark as one of the
greatest players in school history.
The smooth shooting 6-1 forward/center was a three-time All-Big Eight
selection, a 1985 Wade Trophy finalist, member of the Big 8 All-Decade
team, and ranks No. 4 on the school's career scoring and
rebounding charts and No. 1 in career field goal percentage.
Vickie and Barbara had always been inseparable until Vickie moved from
Oklahoma City to Orlando in 1999. She calls teaming with Barbara at KU
one of the fondest memories of her collegiate career.
"It was just me and Barbara," Vickie told me during an interview in
2002. "I'm just happy we were able to go to school together because I
don't know how we would have been separate. We've never been separated
until I moved to Florida."
That history of close family ties may help explain why Xavier
originally signed with Memphis to be with his brother and why C.J. is
leaving Memphis after one year and following Xavier to KU. They wanted
to play for the same college, just like their parents were together at
Kansas and mother and aunt were teammates in college.
"Me and my brother, there's no separating us," Xavier said. "I'd do
anything for my brother."
With the Henrys coming to Kansas, I've often thought back to my
interview with Carl in 1999. He talked softly yet cheerfully about his
KU days, meeting former teammates and friends at the 100-year
celebration reunion of Kansas basketball in 1998, and staying in touch
with guys like former teammate Greg Dreiling. Henry was keeping busy
back then with his real estate business, mentoring kids, attending
church regularly, and spending much time following C.J.'s (then 13
years old) and Xavier's (then age 8) baseball, football and basketball
Ten years later, Carl Henry's boys are all grown up and taking their
games to Kansas. I couldn't be happier for the entire family. I was a
KU student and member of the Bleacher Creatures Women's Basketball fan
club during Barbara's and Vickie's Jayhawk career, including vice
president during Vickie's senior season in 1985-86. I fondly remember
talking to Barbara after a women's basketball fan club meeting in the
fall of 1984 at JRP Hall, and am elated she'll be moving to Lawrence
with her sons.
Barbara and Carl have to be very proud of their sons attending their
alma mater. Carl, who helped lay the foundation for renewed greatness
in Kansas basketball, told me in our interview in 1999 he was at peace
with his decision to attend KU back in 1981.
"I had a good time there playing with different guys," Henry said. "I
was glad I came there. I wouldn't change anything. I was glad that
everything that happened to me there happened, because it happens for a
Twenty-eight years later, he'll now watch his sons carry on the family
legacy and shoot jumpers in Allen Fieldhouse, just as he and Barbara
did decades ago.
When I'll watch C.J. and Xavier play, I'll probably drift back to that
day in the early 1980s when Carl Henry was alone in an empty Allen
Fieldhouse dripping with sweat and shooting baskets after a long
practice during a drill with Calipari.
Those words from Calipari still echo in my mind: "Carl Henry doesn't
That's exactly right. He just got better.
Carl and Barbara: Welcome home to Kansas basketball.
You were a part of the Jayhawk family in the 1980s, you are a part of
it now, and you'll be a part of it forever.
Welcome Home To Kansas Basketball
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