Shooting guard Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City), the top player in the ESPNU 100, will be taking his explosive skill set to Memphis. Henry chose the Tigers over Kansas.
This is a major recruiting coup for coach John Calipari and the Memphis Tigers. For the third year in a row, Calipari and his staff have recruited and landed one of the best players in the country. Two years ago, the Tigers got a commit from Chicago point guard Derrick Rose. Last year, they secured the services of shooting guard Tyreke Evans during the late signing period.
Calipari has been successful at bringing in and developing high-profile recruits. He has a passion and embraces recruiting the best players and helping them reach their potential.
Henry is a terrific athlete who already has the body of an NBA shooting guard. He is a prolific scorer who uses his 6-foot-6 frame to see over and shoot over defenders. His jumper extends to about 22 feet, and he has excellent shot preparation and all the right mechanics.
Henry thrives in transition, which is a big part of Memphis' style of play. He can lead the break himself and make the assist or sprint the lane and get all the way to the basket, finishing above the rim. He also is effective stopping behind the 3-point line and knocking it down with confidence.
What makes Henry the nation's top player is that he consistently dominates his opponents. He is the reason his team wins; his skills make those around him better. Playing in the half court, he stands out with his physical and aggressive scoring mentality. In Calipari's dribble-drive motion offense, he will be able to create for himself, utilizing the open space to find driving lanes and take advantage of the talent around him. He also will be able to hand out assists; this offense allows a scorer to make plays for others when the defense helps on the ball.
Henry will fit perfectly in the full-court pressure defense the Tigers put on opponents to create an up-tempo game. The NBA is adopting some of Calipari's dribble-drive concepts and implementing them because of the spacing and movement they create with "structured freedom" for the players.
Besides his solid shooting stroke, Henry can score using his dribble penetration with his tight ballhandling and strong body to carry defenders on his hip into the paint. Once in the lane, he can finish through contact, get fouled and earn the old-fashioned 3-point play or pull-up. He possesses an effective, between-the-legs, right-to-left crossover dribble to shake off his defenders.
Henry can execute a two-man game; he has demonstrated his ability to shoot behind the screen when the defender goes under or he can attack the big man who tries to jump out and show against him. Put a smaller, quicker defender on him, and Henry will go to the low post and punish him with his quick turnaround or power drop step.
One thing that doesn't get mentioned is how good an on-ball defender Henry could be with his size, wing span, strength and foot speed. He understands the importance of rebounding and does it on both ends of the floor. But every player has weaknesses -- in Henry's case, he needs to develop and utilize a middle game going to his right as well as his left.
Henry gives Memphis an impact player in an already strong recruiting class. The Tigers' 2009 haul also includes guard Nolan Dennis (Richland Hills, Texas) and forwards Darnell Dodson and Will Coleman (both of Miami Dade College). This means the Tigers will continue to dominate Conference USA and make deep runs into the NCAA tournament. Henry will be a go-to guy when the shot clock is winding down, and he can bust open a zone defense with his shooting prowess and when the game is on the line.
Henry is the ultimate student athlete; he is a talented young man who is coachable. He takes his academics very seriously, carrying a GPA well over 3.0. He also finds time to give back to his community. He participates in a leadership class in which he spends time with middle school students and teaches them about respect, hard work and the value of their education.
Playing at Memphis, Henry will compete for championships and develop his game for the NBA. He also will get the opportunity to share the court with his brother, C.J. Henry, who is expected to play an important role with the Tigers.
Paul Biancardi, who spent 2007-08 as an assistant coach on Rick Majerus' staff at Saint Louis University, is the national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc. He has 18 years of coaching experience at the Division I level. He was an assistant at Boston University, Boston College and Ohio State before becoming the head coach at Wright State, where he earned Horizon League coach of the year honors in the 2003-04 season.