Four years after Kansas coach Bill Self originally expected, C.J. Henry is finally in Lawrence, Kan. to play basketball. Originally committed in the 2005 class — a class that featured future NBA players Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Julian Wright — Henry took his game elsewhere.
Elsewhere was Major League Baseball, as Henry signed with the New York Yankees organization after being drafted in the first round. He spent most of time rehabbing from injuries and was a part of a trade with Philadelphia for Bobby Abreu and later re-signed with the Yankees. After his short career in baseball, it is easy to understand if he is a little jaded.
“Shoot, everything’s a business,” he said. “If you approach it that way and take it seriously, you know, there’s room for fun and being a kid, but if you really want to further yourself and play professionally, you have to take it seriously, because only a few can make it.”
The Henry saga took an unexpected turn when coach John Calipari took the opening at the University of Kentucky, a year after C.J. took a medical redshirt at the University of Memphis with a stress fracture in his foot.
C.J.’s brother, Xavier, had committed to Kentucky in November to join his kinsman. Once Calipari left, Xavier was released from his letter of intent and decided between Kansas and Kentucky, where his brother would surely follow.
On April 23, Xavier had signed a grant in aid with Kansas and C.J. Henry was admitted into Kansas soon after.
It all seemed to come full circle, Self said, as their parents, Carl and Barbara, both played basketball for the University of Kansas in the early 1980s.
A controversial interview in the Kansas City Star with their father, Carl, led fans on Internet message boards to start questioning the attitudes and intentions of the Henry family.
“I don’t like stepping on people’s toes,” Carl Henry told the Star, “but I just know what I know. I watch them play, all the Kansas kids. I like all these kids, (Sherron) Collins, (Tyshawn Taylor), they’re good kids, man. But they’re not better than C.J.”
C.J. quickly extinguished those claims on Tuesday as he met with media.
“My dad’s a little outspoken sometimes,” C.J. said. “If you get him riled up the right way, he’ll probably say anything. I think he was just seeing how hard we were working, putting in like four hours a day in a gym with no air conditioning, just about to pass out.”
Fans also questioned why the Henry brothers weren’t in Lawrence with their teammates working out. Xavier said this was due to some business that needed to be taken care of in their hometown of Oklahoma City.
“I had to stay home. I had to get my braces off,” Xavier said. “I had to get two root canals and all four wisdom teeth taken out. People thought we were skipping these workouts (at KU). I had to do stuff at home and was still working out.”
C.J., who is listed as a redshirt freshman, isn’t worried about his break from competitive basketball, as he hasn’t played in a competitive game since his senior year of high school.
“I’ve worked hard, shoot, too hard this summer to be worried about what somebody else is doing or how I’m going to match up with somebody else,” Henry said. “I know I’m going to go out there and I’m going to do me and if that’s not enough, shoot, I’ll go out there and work harder.”
Starting center Cole Aldrich, who averaged 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds last year, was happy to see the Henrys on campus and described Xavier as extremely athletic.
“They are great people. The guys on the team are really excited to have them on campus,” Aldrich said. “We are excited for them to be here and really be one as a team. They are hard workers. They were lifting with us today. They got in the grind with us and everything is going great so far.”
Xavier was looking forward to working with Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins, who were both All-Big 12 first team selections last season.
“Every day I can learn something. With those two staying, that’s the biggest thing. That puts us right back on top,” Xavier said. “They have all the experience. All they can do is teach us and all I can do is learn from them.”
While Xavier is getting most of the publicity locally, little brother stood up for big brother.
“People will see when they come watch us play,” Xavier said. “They won’t be like ‘Oh, he’s my brother.’ They’ll say, ‘That’s C.J.’”