Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Why Aaron Henry feels ready to embrace his expectations

After an aggressive performance against Eastern Michigan, Henry gets comfortable in a large role again

December 22, 2019
<p>Sophomore forward Aaron Henry goes up for a shot against Binghamton. The Spartans defeated the Bearcats 100-47 at the Breslin Student Events Center on Nov. 10, 2019. </p>

Sophomore forward Aaron Henry goes up for a shot against Binghamton. The Spartans defeated the Bearcats 100-47 at the Breslin Student Events Center on Nov. 10, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

The story and progression of Aaron Henry has been anything but linear.

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2019 against No. 15 seed Bradley, before the then-freshman forward could sit down on the bench, coach Tom Izzo chewed him out, lunging and poking at him during a timeout for defensive lapses and effort-related mistakes.

The media swarmed Izzo for it. But Henry didn’t mind it.

Henry would respond with key performances for the Spartans in the next four games, averaging 11 points per game and posting a career-high 20 points against No. 3 seed LSU in the Sweet Sixteen.

Henry welcomed himself into college basketball with a bang to end his freshman campaign.

Attention began to circle the now-sophomore forward. Expectations were high and it seemed he felt ready to produce.

The start to his sophomore season hasn’t been all that he has hoped it to be, as he has struggled to find the aggressive switch he turned on during the tournament.

There have been spurts of LSU Henry, starting the season with a Jason Richardson-esque slam in the Spartans' exhibition against Albion and a strong 14-point performance against Georgia.

But he hasn't put a complete game together.

Through his first 11 games Aaron Henry wasn't silent, but he failed to perform at the level that many expected him to be at, notably going dormant in some of the Spartans’ biggest games.

Against then-No. 2 Kentucky, Henry started out his season with nine points and two rebounds. He didn't do himself any favors after he put himself in foul trouble early, playing just 23 minutes. More time, shots and hustle stats were needed from Henry if the Spartans were going to be the No. 1 team the country expected them to be.

Evidently, they weren't, and Henry fell short of the level that everyone wanted him to be at coming in. But Izzo doesn't want the blame to placed on his sophomore forward.

Izzo has said that some players need to be coached certain ways, and that he needs to do more to hold Henry to the level he knows he can reach.

"It's not even his fault sometimes. Some people need certain things and so I think I've done him a little bit of a disservice, so that's my fault," Izzo said. "He can handle it, anybody can handle it. If you know somebody cares about you, loves you and wants you to do your best, it's easy."

Henry would find some sort of consistency in the Maui Invitational, posting 18 points and five rebounds against Virginia Tech. But he would again find a fork in the road, coughing the ball up three times in the Spartans' upset loss to the Hokies.

The flashes Henry showed in Maui fizzled against former No. 10 Duke. He would cough the ball up twice and follow the rest of the Spartans' lead as Duke out-toughed them the entire game.

In the loss Henry would only shoot the ball twice.


In the Big Ten opener against Rutgers, not everything was there but the pieces the world saw in the NCAA Tournament began to shine again.

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The aggressive and confident Aaron Henry switch seemed to turn back on. Only, it didn’t seem that way from a glance at his stats.

“I went two-for-ten. ... I’m going to make those shots,” Henry said after his performance against Rutgers.

The misses didn’t reflect the game he played both mentally and physically.  The sophomore forward took leaps forward in the Spartans' Big Ten opener in many respects.

For one, his confidence keeps going up. Henry didn’t shy away from talking about his 20% shooting percentage from the field on the night. In fact, he embraced it and laughed. He knew these shots would start dropping.

“Those shots are going in," Henry said. "I know they are. The floaters I missed, the threes I missed, just how much they just bounced off the rim and fell out, all those type of things. I know those are going in."

Even when the shots weren’t falling, Henry did what elite players do: produce any way he could.

“I’m going to find a way to score, you know, it’s just who I've always been," he said. "It’s just a matter of am I going to take certain shots, am I going to be able to be the player I know I can be."

He would go on to turn in two disappointing performances against Oakland and Northwestern. Against Northwestern, Henry would go just 1-9 from the field adding six turnovers to his statline.

Henry's performance against Eastern Michigan served as his reunion party and he may not need another one.

The sophomore did it all Saturday night. He scored with confidence, moved the ball with ease, dominated on defense and crashed the boards.

Posting 12 points on six shots and going 2-2 from his two opportunities at the line, Henry was efficient. More than efficiency, he saw the court well, adding six assists to his totals, several finishing with a sophomore Marcus Bingham Jr. dunk.

He was everywhere he needed to be, finding ways to pull down rebounds and halt defenders at the rim. Nearly earning a double-double, Henry pulled down nine rebounds and added two blocks.

"It's key," he said. "It's something that's not easy to do. I mean playing a complete game, scoring, passing, rebounding, just being out there existing is one of the things I have the abilities of doing, just contributing in all areas. Coach Izzo knows it and he's been demanding it from me and I'm just trying to bring that to him."

Even as Henry looked to find his own identity on the court, he still was able to keep his teammates' heads up and refocus them when he needed to. Following an unnecessary foul from Bingham Jr., Henry demanded his attention before Eastern Michigan took their free throws, and refocused his roommate.

"I'm like, you can't let that happen, those are controllable things. He can't push you out under the rim like that and he knows that," Henry said.

This showing, albeit against Eastern Michigan, may have been the one necessary to put the puzzle together.

"I've been saying it, y'all were the ones that don't believe me. I'm getting there, even more too it's going to keep coming," Henry said as he addressed the media's speculation on his season.


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