ACC's Top 25 Players: No. 14 – John Henson, North Carolina

Someone, anyone...give this kid a burger or two.

Last year, no player in the ACC disappointed me more than John Henson. Of course, I should shoulder some of the blame on this one. My expectations were probably a tad too high. I had the kid winning ‘Freshman of the Year’ over Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors) after watching the McDonald’s All-American game and a couple of high school highlight reels.

The fact is, there were times last year when John Henson did not look good. He looked like me if I was randomly placed into a Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightly photo shoot…weak and overmatched. Luckily for him, the reason was simple…the kid was just too damn skinny.

At (a long) 6-10, John was officially 195 pounds, but I’m going to assume Roy Williams had a foot on the scale, because the freshman looked like he could blow over if the crowd decided to do the wave. Time and time again, opposing big men bounced Henson around.

Once the Tar Heels stumbled into ACC play, Henson was drifting outside the paint, pretending to be a (tall) small forward. Someone probably should have told him he needed an outside shot to be a small forward in this league.

The fact is, as the season rolled along, Henson looked like a man with no home in Carolina’s offense. His playing time dropped. He went three weeks without seeing double-digit minutes on the floor. During a five-game stretch in January, he scored a total of seven points, grabbing only four rebounds. Yes, you read that correctly, seven points, four rebounds total in five games.

Yet as Carolina’s season crumbled and injuries shredded the Tar Heels front court, Coach Williams had no choice but to get the skinny kid back on the floor. Slowly, but surely the playing time began to pay off. In fact, he might have been one of the better players in North Carolina’s N.I.T. run.

Now I know as a Duke fan, just writing a sentence with the words “Carolina” and “N.I.T.” makes me chuckle, but it’s the reason why Henson is up so high on this list. Let’s go ahead and revisit the end of the year, even before the N.I.T., starting February 10 at home against the Blue Devils no less.

From that moment, North Carolina would play 14 more games and Henson would play 20+ minutes in all but one. In those fourteen games, Henson would shot .500 from the floor (57-114), averaging about 9.3ppg.

More importantly, Henson really started to insert himself on the glass and on the defensive end. His rebounding total shot up from 2.3rpg in his first 23 games to 7.9 in his final 14 games.

On the defensive side of the ball, he blocked 25 shots in his first 23 games. In his final 14, he swatted away 32 (2.3 blocks per game).

Most impressively, he did all this without ever getting into serious foul trouble. He picked up three fouls or more four times, never fouling out.

Those last 14 games showed that the talent is there. We all saw it. The athletic ability is there. Opponents trying to shoot over him saw first hand his ability to get up and stay up. The kid simply needs two things to take that next step, weight/muscle and experience.

Henson has been working on the former this past summer. According to Yahoo/Rivals, he’s been living in the gym and he’s up to 207 pounds. His goal is to be 215 by the beginning of the season.  In the end, it won’t be enough to make him a great player (he’ll lose some of that bulk throughout the season), but for his sophomore year, it should be enough.

The experience he needs actually started last year, even if the coach wasn’t ready to give it to him, when everyone crumbled like a soccer player in a World Cup match.

Even more experience is coming this year thanks to Deon Thompson graduation, Ed Davis going pro and the Wear twins headed back west.

Not only will John Henson start in 2010-2011, he’s going to be logging plenty of minutes (25+), simple because Coach Williams really only has one guy, Alabama transfer Justin Knox, backing up both Henson and the oft-injured Tyler Zeller.

Henson has also been working on developing some post-up moves for inside the paint, but don’t look for him to suddenly become a back-to-the basket force. He doesn’t need to be. First, that’s Zeller’s job. Second, Henson is most dangerous when he’s forgotten about (by the opposing team of course).

Last year, there weren’t any real threats on the Tar Heels, especially from the outside. Teams could just take them on five-on-five, playing zone or collapsing everyone inside.

In 2010-2011, that will change. Not only will the current crop of guards (Drew, Strickland, McDonald and Graves be one year older, one year wiser, the Tar Heels are getting some much needed “offensive” talent with their freshman class, in particular, with Harrison Barnes.

Despite being just a freshman, Barnes will easily be the most talented player in baby blue next year. Teams will need to game plan against him. Opponents will need to double him up.

This will leave openings for players, especially John Henson, who should have a better feel for his role in the offense. Look for Henson to live in the paint, finding good spots on the floor to receive clean passes and score high percentage shots (imagine Lance Thomas if he was taller, more athletic and had more basketball/offensive skill).

I suspect the sophomore will average 10 points per game, shooting roughly 55% from the floor. Most importantly though, the rebounding should remain around eight per game and he should be first or second in the ACC in blocks. A spot on the third-team “All-ACC” is not out of the question.

#15 – XAVIER GIBSON, CENTER – FLORIDA STATE

#16 – C.J. LESLIE, FORWARD – NORTH CAROLINA STATE

#17 – GLEN RICE JR., GUARD – GEORGIA TECH

#18 – REGGIE BULLOCK, GUARD – NORTH CAROLINA

#19 – MASON PLUMLEE, FORWARD – DUKE

#20 – C.J. HARRIS, GUARD – WAKE FOREST

#21 – SETH CURRY, GUARD – DUKE

#22 – SEAN MOSLEY, GUARD – MARYLAND

#23 – JOE TRAPANI, FORWARD – BOSTON COLLEGE

#24 – MIKE SCOTT, FORWARD – VIRGINIA

#25 - IMAN SHUMPERT, GUARD – GEORGIA TECH

Topics: ACC, John Henson, North Carolina, Top-25

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