We'll continue yesterday's theme of Xavier Henry dominating the front page and for one last time critique and grade out this debatable one-and-done.
Yesterday when Xavier Henry declared for the NBA Draft, it brought to close one of the most debatable, controversy-filled (lest we forget the dominoes of John Calipari's departure from Memphis?) and up, down, up, down times in Kansas basketball; all while being done in the shortest Kansas career from start to finish (ending college eligibility) ever.
It was just over a year ago, on April 1 (what kind of April Fool's joke was that for the rest of the country?) that Calipari famously left Memphis to resurrect the fallen giant that is Kentucky basketball. Xavier was to play for him at Memphis, but after a long, tenuous roller coaster ride that was the Xavier Henry vs. Lance Stephenson debate, followed by the Carl Henry vs. Carl Henry(?) debate, he ended up a Jayhawk. At that point, Kansas fans and college basketball experts around the country declared the Jayhawks, already national champion favorites for 2009-10, the runaway favorites. Heck, we were all convinced that we had to have him and that we would fail without him.
How did that work out for you, Kansas fan? Not quite like we expected it to, huh? The Xavier era at Kansas consisted of four acts to a play - the wooing and courting process, the who-is-this-guy flying start, the disappearing act magician show and the too little, too late recovery act.
I've got more coming tomorrow on how Xavier affected the team and how a potential recruit could offset any momentum heading into next year, so today we'll deal strictly with Xavier's performances and not so much his role in the team, so as not to repeat or spoil any of the good stuff tomorrow.
The Wooing and Courting Process
Fairly well outlined above and something few Kansas fans will ever forget. The most memorable moment from that time has to be the day or two leading up Calipari bolting for Kentucky, bringing about The Door (note the comment from TOOMER) - something RCT folk will never, ever forget. The lowlight, though, was undoubtedly Carl Henry going over the airwaves of Kansas after J Brady McCollough, in Carl's words, painted his family in a bad light. (The Kansas City Star article in question is no longer available online.) Carl went on to say that, after the Henry brothers had verbally committed to the Jayhawks, they might still go elsewhere, as Carl was up in arms. It was ugly. Let's never go there again.
The Flying Start
The second act of the Henry Play was more fun and far less stressful or controversial than the first. Xavier opened his Kansas career with a 27 point performance in Allen Fieldhouse against Hofstra. In his first ten games, he averaged 17.7 points per game, topping 18 four times and 30 once. Xavier got off to the kind of start that everyone hoped we would. At this point, we were sizing rings and preparing for another parade.
The highlight of Xavier's lone season at Kansas came in those first ten games. He went for a career-high 31 points on 10-15 shooting and 4-5 from three on December 12 against LaSalle in Kansas City. It was a game that I missed live, but after watching later that night, found myself expecting this kind of play from Xavier the rest of the season. It was surely an absurd expectations, but when you're being a fan and seeing this kind of play and potential from a guy, you can't help yourself.
In his first ten games, Xavier shot 49.1 percent from the field (as a guard, keep in mind) and an identical 49.1 percent from three. Had the season stopped there, he would have been National Freshman of the Year, All-American and the first pick in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, the season was only a third over.
Forgetting How to Shoot
Xavier fell to villain status nearly as fast as he had risen to that of hero. Think A-Rod hits .230 for the Yankees this year and slugs a measly 17 home runs. He was on top of the world last year after a World Series championship, but by September he'd be on his way to Kansas City if Yankee fans had their way. At certain points, it reached almost that level here at RCT when it came to Xavier's struggles. Perhaps it was only because it's tougher to watch someone with such great potential throw it all away thanks to a series of bad life decisions and squander what was once a promising future.
As Xavier's scoring average over the next 14 dropped, so did his shooting percentages. What was once a glossy 17.7 point per game average fell to 12.7 after a 9.1 points per game slump. Take away free throws and things got really ugly for Xavier. (He accrued two points a game there, so he was sitting at 7.1 elsewhere.) During the second 14 games, he shot just 34.6 percent from the field and an even worse 29.7 percent from three. At this point, I shuddered everytime he got the ball on the perimeter, no matter how wide open, because it was almost a foregone conclusion that it was going to clank off the rim, never being very close to going on because when he was off, he wasn't even close, and turn into a wasted possession, a long rebound and a fastbreak the other direction.
And, it wasn't just bad or unlucky shooting. He had become a turnover machine and was hurting the team more than he was helping it. During the 14 game stretch in question, he gave the ball away nearly three times a game. Nothing can halt an already sputtering offense like not even getting a shot
To his credit, though, never at any point did you see him slack on in any other facet of the game - defense in particular - or not give 100 percent effort. He was always giving it his all. Just at times he's such a gifted athlete and player that he made it look so easy and natural that it could be mistake for that. You could sense that he would eventually break out of it and return to his early season ways. With every made basket, someone would drop the "is this when he's getting back on track?" question in the Open Game Thread.
Too Little, Too Late
Eventually, that game did come and that lightbulb did flick back on and Xavier once again became a vitally important part of the Jayhawks. I won't go as far to say that the mid-season struggles came as Xavier went off the deep end. I've already blamed Tyshawn Taylor for that. But, when Xavier was asserting himself as a scorer in the offense, the team seemed nearly untouchable. The thoughts that there wouldn't be enough shots for a backcourt consisting of both Xavier and Sherron Collins seemed ridiculous. Defenders keyed on Xavier, which left Sherron open. It all worked as thing of beauty. Losing that left the offense often stagnant and predictable.
But, when Xavier re-emerged as a player to be reckoned with against Iowa State on February 13, all seemed to be well again. Or, maybe it just happened to be a glorious singing of the National Anthem that night that brought about equally great basketball from Xavier. He was doing it in every facet. This is from my postgame that night:
Xavier, Xavier, Xavier, where you been, man? Just when things got good on Monday night in defeating Texas pretty handily on the road, they got better Saturday night when the formerly super frosh Xavier Henry returned to early season form by scoring sixteen points on five-of-nine shooting. He had a quick run in the middle of the first half where he scored on an inbounds play and got fouled, then followed it up with back to back threes.
Once again, at that point, we were winning it all. We had just beaten Texas on the road, had a three game lead in the conference and were supposed to be invincible again. Over the next six games, Xavier averaged 18.5 points per game and was shooting 51.9 percent from three again. At that time, though, in my own opinion, the damage had been done. Different players were playing different roles, guys were shouldering larger loads and when Xavier returned to form, he just didn't quite fit what was going on. Not to cop out on this post, but I'm going to leave that at that for tomorrow's post. There's really far more to it than we've all realized, I think.
The team got up for the ensuing big games and strutted their stuff. But, in the biggest games of the season - the Big 12 tournament and NCAA Tournament - when near perfection was necessary, they had gone too long skating by and weren't ready for a real fight for life of their season. In the fateful game against Northern Iowa, Xavier had one of his more efficient games - 8 points on 3-6 shooting and 2-4 from three and just one turnover - but probably wasn't visible enough to suffice the team's need.
Final 2010 Grade: C+ and flirting with B-
For all the frustrations and curse words that Xavier brought about from myself this year, I really think he played well. Expectations got a bit unreal and he was an inexperienced at the college level freshman. Perhaps another year of playing against top college basketball competition would have better groomed him for the NBA, but when you can get paid, you have to go for it. That, and while he may have been a better player, who's to say that would have necessarily helped the team all that much? Here's to a memorable (for mutliple reasons) season from Xavier and the best to him in the NBA.