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Carl Henry sat stoically in his bleacher seat 20 or so rows above the visitor’s basketball bench, watching intently as his son Xavier exploded for a game-high 24 points in Kansas University’s 94-74 victory over Colorado on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
Though he didn’t show it on the outside — rarely cracking even a smile — Carl Henry, a former Jayhawk small forward, was feeling warm and fuzzy on the inside following Xavier’s best overall performance in a dozen Big 12 games, all victories.
“I’m real pleased with his season. When things weren’t going so well, he still hung in there and played. He hung in there. That’s all you can ask,” proud papa Carl said after watching Xavier hit nine of 16 floor shots, including four of seven threes.
“He’s letting the game come to him,” Carl Henry added. “Basically, he isn’t trying to force anything. When he does try to force it, it doesn’t come out good.”
Xavier Henry, who has scored in double figures in four straight games — he had 15 against Texas, 16 versus Iowa State and 12 against Texas A&M; — appears officially to have put to rest talk of a slump that had the 6-foot-6 wing totaling just 31 points off 11-of-36 shooting (5-of-22 from three) in five games.
“I just tell him, ‘Good game’ after every game,” Carl Henry said of good times and bad. “Every time he comes off the floor, I say, ‘Good game.’’’
Accentuating the positive certainly helped Xavier shake his personal skid.
“Everybody always encouraged me because they know I’m a positive kid,” Xavier said. “They won’t say anything to bring me down. My family just kept me thinking positively, and I kept doing the same things I was doing.”
Henry, who stroked three quick threes in helping KU open an 11-7 lead over the Buffs, said he never felt frustrated during his personal dog days of the Big 12 season.
“Not really, because I knew eventually it was going to fall,” Henry said of his shot. “It happens to everybody. Everybody has off games. Mine just came three or four in a row. I worked harder every single day with our shooting coach, coach (Joe) Dooley. We got extra shots up and everything like that. They are starting to fall again.”
KU coach Bill Self encouraged Henry to keep shooting when open during the rookie’s dry spell.
“I think with shooters, they are a little quirky maybe,” Self said. “You worry too much about your shot as opposed to worrying about just playing. There’s some guys on your team that’s easier to go in funks because they need to make shots to play well. Some guys, there’s actually no pressure because they don’t have to make shots to play well. Certainly there’s more pressure making shots than any other part of a basketball game. With Sherron (Collins, 13 points on a day he tied Raef LaFrentz, Billy Thomas and C.B. McGrath as winningest KU player of all time) or with X, that just kind of comes with the territory.
“The last four games, he’s been as good a player as we’ve had on our team,” Self added of Henry.
The Jayhawks are certainly happy to see Henry emerge recently. He’s an upbeat player who has fit in well.
“You can ask the guys. I’m always smiling. I always have a smile on my face,” Henry said.
Tyshawn Taylor, who erupted for 17 points on a day five Jayhawks scored in double figures, had Henry grinning after the game.
“He coulda had 30 if he’d made some more threes,” Taylor said.
“I’ll answer that for him ... yes,” senior team leader Collins cracked, butting in when a reporter asked Henry if his 24-point outing came as a relief.
To Xavier, the 24 points really seemed no big deal, considering he always has been a scorer — both playing for dad Carl’s Athletes First AAU team and at Putnam City (Okla.) High School.
“I’ve been working on it,” Henry said of taking the ball to the basket. “It’s a different way of scoring. I work on all ways of scoring. Nothing comes foreign to me. When you’ve got a wide-open shot, take it. If somebody is crowding you, you go ahead and take it to the rim.”
Ever the coach, Carl Henry was asked if his son should be proud of his play of late.
“He should,” Carl said. “Actually, he should work a little bit harder.”