Sunday, August 1, 2021

Column: Aaron Henry's decision to enter NBA Draft is the right one

April 12, 2021
<p>Junior forward Aaron Henry drives into the lane and passes. Henry&#x27;s 20-point night helped the Spartans win against Penn State on Feb. 9, 2021.</p>

Junior forward Aaron Henry drives into the lane and passes. Henry's 20-point night helped the Spartans win against Penn State on Feb. 9, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

On the heels of news that Aaron Henry has decided to enter his name into the 2021 NBA Draft, hire an agent and subsequently leave Michigan State, I think it's about time we acknowledge this was always the right move.

Henry is projected to go in the late 1st round by The Athletic and early-to-mid second round by other mock drafts.

That shouldn't be why we disagree with Henry's decision to leave for money and a career he's been working for his entire life. This was the right call at the right time. I'm not sure Henry could've improved his stock much more than he did during the 2020-21 campaign, albeit a lackluster one for the Spartan program that has seen now two rotations pieces depart.

First Rocket Watts and now Henry. They both need to do what's best for them — we can't blame young people for doing so. Henry is tired, he played over 30 minutes a game for a team that went 15-13 and is ready for the next step.

The 6-foot-6, 210 pound wing averaged 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while playing 32.5 minutes a game. He became a quote machine during the stretch where MSU knocked off AP Top 10 Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State to revive their postseason hopes that ended with a First Four loss to eventual Final Four squad UCLA, Johnny Juzang and the entire Cronin family tree.

Henry proved his ability to be the all-around type wing player that the NBA is fiending for in today's league. He's also wanted this since he was a child, the junior said it himself:

"Being a professional basketball player has been my dream since I was a kid," Henry said in his statement on Instagram. "I've spent three great years in East Lansing and my teammates are my brothers. We've shared a lot of highs and some lows too and I would not want to experience them with anyone but the guys who have been on this team during my time here."

It is this season that largely defined Henry's career for me, not his step-in as the freshman during an improbable 2019 Final Four run or the upset of Duke — but it was the maturity, bravado and brashness in which he led a team that was without a skipper among the 12 players on the bench for much of the year.

His performance against Illinois: 20 points, five assists, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks and two turnovers with zero personal fouls. He was often at his best on the stages that the team needed him most, regardless of his shots against Purdue and UCLA in close losses not falling when the game was on the line. The coaches asked him to do things that he hadn't been before at MSU: lead, score and run a team that was glued together with Band-Aids instead of duct tape.

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The cracks showed early, but he carried the Spartans late into the season, much farther than I expected this team to go for much of the year.

“Don’t applaud a fish for swimming," Henry said after a win. "Fish swim all day. Spartans have been winning for a long time."

It was the antithesis of what he had become for this Spartan team, along with his "We had to learn to strap our nuts on and play," another all timer.

For those who believe he should come back for one more season, I ask you this: What does he have to gain? Can he jump up draft boards much more than this season could've helped him do so? I have a hard time believing so.

When it's all said and done, the wing may be the best player on this 2020-21 squad. Whether you want to accept that or not, he gave what he had to the program. Now it's time to move on.

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