NBA draft: UNC forward John Henson plays bigger than he is

John Henson was not like most 5-year-olds.

  • North Carolina power forward John Henson is expected to be a late lottery pick in Thursday's NBA draft.

    DerickE. Hingle, US Presswire

    North Carolina power forward John Henson is expected to be a late lottery pick in Thursday's NBA draft.

DerickE. Hingle, US Presswire

North Carolina power forward John Henson is expected to be a late lottery pick in Thursday's NBA draft.

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For starters, the tall, lanky, soon-to-be NBA first-round draft pick was ambidextrous on the basketball court before most kids could even tie their sneakers.

That was the cue to Henson's parents, Matt and Annette, that their son was special.

"At that age, sometimes you can't pick up what a kid's skills are," Henson's mom said from her Tampa home. "But we knew that he was going to be a special basketball player and we just needed to encourage him to chase that dream."

Henson, who entered the NBA draft after finishing his junior season at North Carolina, chased away until he landed in Tar Heel baby blue. As a junior at UNC he was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team after averaging 13.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. As a sophomore, Henson became the first Tar Heel to earn ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors while averaging 11.7 points and 10.1 rebounds.

He thrived under the bright lights of college basketball's biggest stage, but Henson was considered a top prospect even in his pre-teen years.

His dad remembers when Henson, at 9, attended a Joe Dumars basketball camp in Michigan.

"Apparently there was an older gentleman there. I didn't get to meet him but my wife told me about it," Henson's dad said. "He worked with (NBA players) Christian Laettner, Jalen Rose and Glen Rice. He told my wife, 'I was waiting to see who picked this kid up.'

"He named off a bunch of names and said, 'I saw all these kids when they were the same age. They had it. John has it.'"

Henson's abilities on the hardwood sprouted through junior high and high school and improved even while his family relocated several times due to his father's job.

Jumping around New Jersey, Tennessee, Michigan, Texas and Florida, Henson always believed he would end up in one place for his college playing days. At 8, he confidently told his mom his goal was to play basketball at UNC.

By the time he was a high school senior, averaging 17.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 6.1 blocks at Sickles High School in Tampa, Henson could have played anywhere he wanted.

And he did.

Henson entered UNC in the fall of 2009 as a top-five high school recruit, and it did not take long for the team-oriented power forward to fit in at Chapel Hill.

Tar Heel coach Roy Williams said Henson's character spread through the locker room during his three seasons with the team.

"John is such a sincere individual, he did want everybody to be successful," Williams told USA TODAY Sports. "I've always felt it was a special quality for someone to have when they enjoy other people's successes. John does that, so his teammates do that to John — and so those teammates do that to other teammates and so forth.

"Whoever decides to take John is going to get a guy that's going to get better and better and better every year he's with them."

Many questioned the 6-10 Henson's slim stature heading into college, but Henson gained 37 pounds in three years and enters the draft at 216 pounds and growing.

"If you saw me from Day1 (at UNC) until now, I'm a completely different person," Henson said. "It's just something that I've been working on steadily. … My dad always says, 'Wherever you get picked at, if it's five or if it's 25, make every team that overlooked you regret not drafting you.' That's what I want to do."

NBA Director of Scouting Ryan Blake downplayed the issue of Henson's size.

"He's one of the top power forwards who actually plays bigger than he is," Blake told USA TODAY Sports. "He has wingspan, athleticism and he's a good defender and shot blocker. If you look at our game right now, it's not your prototypical (of having) a power forward that's 6-10 and 255. We're playing small ball, where there's so many different types of offenses (Henson) can fit in with."

Henson plans to finish his communications degree at UNC through summer classes and enjoys fishing in his spare time. He also has more than 58,000 followers on Twitter, an admitted obsession. But with an NBA career looming, Henson is ready to work overtime for whatever employer comes knocking.

"I think it's your job now and it's a dream come true," he said. "But you've also got to work to stay there, just like any job. That's what I'm going to do."

Here are other top power forward prospects:

Anthony Davis — Kentucky (Fr.)

Height: 6-10. Weight: 222

2011-12 statistics: 14.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.7 bpg

Strengths: Capable of dominating without having any plays run for him. Prolific shot blocker who rarely gets into foul trouble. Strong finisher around the rim thanks to his quickness and explosiveness. Unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Weaknesses: Needs to improve lower body strength to prevent getting pushed around by stronger players. Low-post game is still a work in progress.

Projection: 1

Blake says: "Davis changes the game like nobody else has done in a long time. He just clears up all of his teammates' errors. He's that excellent rebounder, shot blocker. He's got a good handle for his size, he excels at taking people off the dribble and can defend multiple positions. He's tough and has a good motor and energy. And he's just scratching the surface of his potential. He reminds me a little bit of a potential Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard. He loves being coached and he's grounded, and I think that's unique. He still has concerns but the sky's the limit for him."

Thomas Robinson — Kansas (Jr.)

Height: 6-9. Weight: 244

2011-12 statistics: 17.7 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 1.8 apg

Strengths: Has noticeably improved every year. A standout athlete with a relentless motor. Impossible to keep off the boards. Developing a nice set of low-post moves.

Weaknesses: Jump shot isn't reliable yet. Free throw stroke isn't consistent, either. There are concerns about his upside due to his age.

Projection: Top 10

Blake says: "He could turn out to be a guy who's willing and motivated and has that competitive factor with him. He was second in the nation in rebounds and runner-up for player of the year. But he's improved his offensive game so rapidly. He's NBA strong, he's physical, he's a tough defender. He's been constantly double-teamed but he's protected the ball well and he's athletic and explosive."

Terrence Jones — Kentucky (So.)

Height: 6-9. Weight: 252

2011-12 statistics: 12.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Strengths: A gifted athlete who is left-handed. Has the ability to score all over the floor with a solid low-post game and developing jump shot. Can really rebound and defend when focused.

Weaknesses: Still makes youthful mistakes, especially when it comes to shot selection. Has consistency issues. Body language raised concerns at times.

Projection: Top 10

Blake says: "He can play and defend multiple positions, and he passes well from different spots on the floor. He's another guy that's averaging over seven rebounds a game. He averaged almost nine last year, and he's a shot blocker. He sometimes had that inconsistent motor and that may have been caused by the depth of (Kentucky). But he picked it up when he needed to. He's got a well-rounded game that may be more suited for the NBA."

John Henson — North Carolina (Jr.)

Height: 6-10. Weight: 216

2011-12 statistics: 13.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.9 bpg

Strengths: Long and athletic with the ability to be quite pesky defensively. Possesses an evolving skill set offensively. Can use either hand around the basket. Good mobility for his size. Rebounds well.

Weaknesses: Development rate dropped off as a junior. Missed half of his free throw attempts. Still isn't as strong as he needs to be.

Projection: Mid-to-late lottery

Blake says: "He's one of the top power forwards who actually plays bigger than he is. He has wingspan, athleticism, he's a good defender and shot blocker. If you look at our game right now, it's not prototypical to have a power forward that's 6-10 and 255. We're playing small ball, where there's so many different types of offenses he can fit in with. He can play that role as a defender and shot blocker. He's improved his footwork. He improved his facing, his anticipatory skills, rebounding and offense, as well.

Arnett Moultrie — Mississippi State (Jr.)

Height: 6-11. Weight: 233

2011-12 statistics: 16.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.2 apg

Strengths: Very agile and mobile for someone of his size. Can score inside the paint with his wide variety of moves and out on the perimeter with his jump shot. Hits the glass hard on both ends.

Weaknesses: Didn't dominate consistently as he was capable of doing. Needs to put on a little bit of muscle. Will turn it over when he gets out of control.

Projection: Mid-to-late first round

Jared Sullinger — Ohio State (So.)

Height: 6-9. Weight: 268

2011-12 statistics: 17.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.2 apg

Strengths: A skilled scorer in the low post who is well-versed on how to use his strength. Slimmed down and showed a promising jump shot as a sophomore. Very physical. Active rebounder with good hands.

Weaknesses: Slightly undersized. Has issues scoring against longer players who he can't overpower. Has just average quickness and athleticism.

Projection: Mid-to-late first round

Blake says: "What I love about this guy is he's just got such a high IQ, and he just knows how to play the angles. He's a dominant rebounder and he can be that face-to-the-basket player. He's strong, he's physical, he's a load in the paint. He's such a safe bet that at least he'll be better than a "Big Baby" Glen Davis, but he could be a Zach Randolph or Carlos Boozer. That's a good, inexpensive draft pick. A lot of people say he plays below the rim, but I don't necessarily agree with that. Here's a guy that's got a 7-2 wingspan and he has a feel to play the angles. He's one of those guys who knows the tricks of the trade."

Furkan Aldemir — Galatasaray

Height: 6-9. Weight: 220

2011-12 statistics: 6.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.7 spg

Strengths: An elite rebounder who has dominated the glass in various international tournaments. Plays with a lot of energy and toughness. Has good length.

Weaknesses: Has three years left on his contract overseas. Very raw offensively. Needs to add some strength.

Projection: Mid-second round

Kevin Jones — West Virginia (Sr.)

Height: 6-7. Weight: 251

2011-12 statistics: 19.9 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 1.2 apg

Strengths: A skillful player offensively who is willing to do the dirty work inside the paint. Strong rebounder. Improved every year in college. Plays hard. Takes good care of the basketball.

Weaknesses: Has subpar height and athleticism for his position in the NBA. Three-point shot is streaky at best. Questions about how much better he'll get due to his age.

Projection: Mid-second round

Kyle O'Quinn — Norfolk State (Sr.)

Height: 6-10. Weight: 241

2011-12 statistics: 15.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.6 bpg

Strengths: Under the radar big man whose stock has skyrocketed as of late after strong showings in the NCAA tournament and Portsmouth Invitational. Has ridiculous length, which he gets the most out of defensively. Solid rebounder.

Weaknesses: Still a little raw offensively. Not a standout athletically. Has issues with foul trouble and turning the ball over.

Projection: Mid-second round

Drew Gordon — New Mexico (Sr.)

Height: 6-9. Weight: 239

2011-12 statistics: 13.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.2 apg

Strengths: Adept at using his size and strength to have his way in the paint. One of the best rebounders in the class. Solid free throw shooter. Sound defender.

Weaknesses: Limited offensively, especially away from the paint. Not comfortable handling the basketball. Has dealt with frequent foul trouble at times.

Projection: Mid-second round

Tornike Shengelia — Charleroi

Height: 6-9. Weight: 228

2011-12 statistics: 8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1 apg

Strengths: A solid athlete who lays it all on the line every time he steps out on the court. Can handle the basketball. Very aggressive rebounder.

Weaknesses: Still very raw overall. Hasn't found consistency with his jump shot yet. Needs to get stronger.

Projection: Mid-second round

JaMychal Green — Alabama (Sr.)

Height: 6-9. Weight: 217

2011-12 statistics: 14 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 apg

Strengths: A long and explosive big man who knows how to finish inside the paint. Has a nice touch on his jump shot, which has become a big weapon for him. Had a strong showing at the Portsmouth Invitational.

Weaknesses: Suspended this year for off the court issues. Doesn't always appear to play hard. Still underdeveloped physically. Improvement over the last four years hasn't been vast.

Projection: Late second round

Henry Sims — Georgetown (Sr.)

Height: 7-0. Weight: 241

2011-12 statistics: 11.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.5 apg

Strengths: A late bloomer who came on really strong late. Has a lot of length and the ideal size for an NBA power forward. Has a high basketball IQ and serious playmaking skills.

Weaknesses: Doesn't take great care of the basketball or rebound the way he should. Struggles to finish. Jump shot still developing; it's unreliable right now.

Projection: Late second round

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