The ball was clearly headed out of bounds at Cameron Indoor Stadium, thrown too high for anyone to catch who was not atop stilts. Except, that is, for John Henson, who not only reached and caught the ball -- his arm extending with the facile grace of an elephant's trunk -- but in a single motion directed it to Tar Heel teammate Tyler Zeller under the basket for a layup.
Folks around the ACC and beyond are coming to recognize Henson is good, but they're still catching on to just how good. It's fascinating as new parts of his game emerge, almost comical watching opponents who've never previously faced Henson as they encounter his impossible wing span.
Henson, all 6-10 and 210 pounds of him, is a phenomenon blooming before our eyes.
Set aside the gushing over Harrison Barnes, the polished North Carolina freshman finally emerging from the absurd, stifling burden of being projected as a first team All-American before playing a minute of college ball. Ignore the jabber accompanying Henson's arrival last season at Chapel Hill, portraying him as a one-and-done talent. Forget that Roy Williams, his own coach, used him on the perimeter and didn't move Henson near the basket or into the starting lineup until necessity forced the issue.
Deployed inside since the start of the season, Henson leads the 2011 Tar Heels with 9.0 rebounds per game despite averaging fewer minutes than the 7-foot Zeller, or Barnes, or even guard Dexter Strickland. His average is fourth-best in the league, better than anyone on eight other teams including Duke. He is also UNC's second most accurate shooter from the floor at 53.7 percent.
More remarkably, Henson is the ACC's shotblocking leader with 75 in 25 games so far this season, a 3.0 average.
Half of Henson's playing time in 2010, and all of his starts, came in the final 14 games of the season as even Williams, his coach, took a while to grasp the magnitude of the Tampa 20-year-old's prowess as a game-altering defensive weapon.
"His reach is unbelievable," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the Blue Devils defeated the Heels earlier this month. "I don't think there's a better shotblocker in the country." He also called Henson "as good a big guy as there is in the country."
Henson already ranks 13th in total career blocks by an ACC sophomore active since 1977, when all teams in the conference began reporting the statistic. With a minimum of seven games remaining in UNC's season, the slender post player is apt to rank as the reigning sophomore rejector in modern school history.
Yet, because Henson's impressive raw totals do not account for breadth of opportunity, they do not sufficiently illuminate his achievements.
Calibrated by minutes played, as in the second chart, Henson leaps into fourth place among the ACC's most prolific young shotblockers. He paces this year's ACC regulars in the speed with which he records rejections (one every 8.1 minutes played).
Stunningly, Henson is only now extending the full range of his skills, including a deft shooting touch out to the 3-point line. (Free throw accuracy is another story; in that realm Henson is as frightfully feckless as Duke's fast-developing Mason Plumlee.)
"I'm telling you, Henson has an impact on the game, it shows up in stats but he has more of an impact than that," Krzyzewski said. "I think he's really good. I don't think there's a more unique guy than him."
Top Totals In Blocked Shots, ACC Sophomores Since 1977
|Player, School||Years||Games||Minutes||Blocks||Per Min||Per Game|
|Ralph Sampson, V||1980,81||67||2058||260||7.92||3.89|
|Tim Duncan, WF||1994,95||65||2165||259||8.36||3.98|
|Alvin Jones, GT||1998,99||61||2094||248||8.44||4.07|
|Joe Smith, M||1994,95||64||2099||190||11.05||2.97|
|Sharone Wright, C||1992,93||58||1660||187||8.88||3.22|
|Mike Gminski, D||1977,78||59||1949||182||10.71||3.08|
|Derrick Lewis, M||1985,86||70||2191||170||12.89||2.43|
|Shelden Williams, D||2003,04||70||1596||163||9.79||2.33|
|Solomon Alabi, FS*||2008-10||76||1692||159||10.64||2.09|
|Rasheed Wallace, NC||1994,95||69||1762||156||11.29||2.26|
|Elden Campbell, C||1987,88||59||1342||150||8.95||2.54|
|Trevor Booker, C||2007,08||70||1842||141||13.06|
|John Henson, NC||2010,11||62||1196||135||8.86|
|* Played in three seasons due to redshirt after 9 games in 2008.|
Fewest Minutes Played Per Blocked Shot Among ACC's Modern Sophomore Leaders
|Player, School||Years||Games||Minutes||Blocks||Per Min|
|1.||Ralph Sampson, V||1980,81||67||2058||260||7.92|
|2.||Tim Duncan, WF||1994,95||65||2165||259||8.36|
|3.||Alvin Jones, GT||1998,99||61||2094||248||8.44|
|13.||. John Henson, NC||2010,11||62||1196||135||8.86|
|5.||Sharone Wright, C||1992,93||58||1660||187||8.88|
|11.||Elden Campbell, C||1981,82||59||1342||150||8.95|
|8.||Shelden Williams, D||2003,04||70||1596||163||9.79|
|9.||Solomon Alabi, FS*||2008-10||76||1692||159||10.64|
|6.||Mike Gminski, D||1977,78||59||1949||182||10.71|
|4.||Joe Smith, M||1994,95||64||2099||190||11.05|
|10.||Rasheed Wallace, NC||1994,95||69||1762||156||11.29|
|7.||Derrick Lewis, M||1985,86||70||2191||170||12.89|
|12.||Trevor Booker, C||2007,08||70||1842||141||13.06|
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