The first impression Martavious Irving and Rodney McGruder got of Jordan Henriquez was on their first visit to Manhattan.
And it was memorable.
The group of five, including Wally Judge and Nick Russell, settled into the Kansas State dorms, with school out of session, for their first, admittedly scary, weekend in the Little Apple.
And in walked Henriquez, a near 7-foot tall, skinny kid from New York, topping off his appearance with what Irving described as a “ridiculous” bucket hat.
Henriquez still feels the need to defend himself for that fashion.
“I’m from New York, New Yorkers rock the bucket hat,” he said. “It was a Polo bucket hat, still have it. I don’t wear it anymore, but if it gets a little hot out, I might throw it on and walk outside to get the mail.”
But after four years at K-State, Henriquez has graduated to better bucket hats and has grown into his skinny frame. And he’s grown to love a city that once scared him so much. If it was up to him, Henriquez said he’d keep an apartment in Manhattan so he could keep on visiting.
But even more so, he’s formed an unbreakable bond with the two guys that stayed with him for the whole ride at K-State.
“I’ve grown on Rodney and Martavious,” he said. “I’ve grown on Martavious’ hairline, its receded more and more, but those are my brothers, I know when we leave here we will be in contact.”
Their first season with K-State was memorable, maybe even more than that bucket hat. The Wildcats won the most games in school history that season, 2009-10, and made a run all the way to the Elite Eight.
For their part, Henriquez said he and the other freshman, still with five members at that point, simply enjoyed the ride.
“The first NCAA tournament, we were winning and walking into different arenas just starstruck,” he said. “I’ll never forget moments like that.”
Henriquez said some of his most memorable moments have included beating Kansas by 18 two seasons ago, and beating an undefeated, No. 1-ranked Texas team.
He’s been known for his late season surges and impressive performances against other guys his size.
His role has seemingly changed this season, but once again he is making his signature late-season move. Both Henriquez and coach Bruce Weber think it started with the game against Baylor on Feb. 16.
“I thought the Baylor game here was his best game, and he’s been a factor,” Weber said. “Other than foul trouble, which has limited his minutes, he just seems more assertive rebounding. He’s given us some put-backs, and it seems like he’s more into the games — ready to play.”
Henriquez lost his starting spot to Thomas Gipson early in the year, and eventually came back into a starting role, even with low minutes. The senior is averaging less than five points and five rebounds per game, but insists it’s not about playing time or points. And he knows he could have done better early on.
“It’s not about me scoring the basketball, but me being in the right spot at the right time,” he said. “I know I could have been consistent throughout the season.”
Henriquez is one of the faces of the Catbacker tours that travel throughout the state, and has become synonymous with the program for fans across Kansas. When Weber took over in March, he quickly nicknamed Henriquez “the mayor,” of Manhattan, estimating that he had shook more hands than anyone around.
Henriquez was one of the first players to publically embrace Weber and what he was doing offensively. And although he might not have been the first of the seniors to completely buy in, Weber said he has steadily improved and been a leader.
The senior missed one game this season on Feb. 25, following the sudden death of his grandmother. He said his families’ ability to attend Tuesday’s senior night game against TCU was an escape for them which he was glad to provide.
Henriquez also felt a need to send thanks to former coach Frank Martin before this week’s senior game, both for bringing him here and affecting his life in so many ways.
“Frank’s been a father figure in my life,” he said. “When my grandmother passed away, he called me that same night, sent his condolences, and so did that whole coaching staff. I appreciate Frank. I know I’ll have a relationship with him throughout the rest of my life.”