The conversation, to this day, sticks in the head of Kansas State’s Jordan Henriquez. Prior to K-State’s game against Kansas on Feb. 13, Frank Martin challenged his 7-foot center. He spoke to Henriquez about Jeff Withey — about how the Jayhawks’ 7-footer was now dominating games with his length and ability to block shots.
“I remember the talk word for word,” Henriquez said. “It really motivated me from that day on. It really triggered something in me. I had a lot of self motivation from that and I built my confidence day by day from then on.”
This was the day that turned Henriquez’s season — perhaps his career — around. But before that’s touched on, it’s important to note Martin’s challenge: Withey was a guy who hardly got on the court last season, and to put it bluntly, there were times the then-sophomore looked completely overmatched against Big 12 competition. And toward the end of last season, Henriquez was playing his best basketball of his K-State career.
When KU and K-State met on Feb. 14 of last season, Henriquez scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, grabbed five rebounds, blocked a shot, recorded an assist and didn’t turn the ball over. Withey scored four points, had three rebounds and didn’t block a single shot in the game.
A year later, Withey entered the K-State game leading the Big 12 in blocked shots and was coming off a pair of games where he combined for 43 points, 25 rebounds and 10 blocks.
Then there was Henriquez, who, in his first three Big 12 games this season averaged 8.7 points, made 11 of his 24 shots from the floor and collected 5.3 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game Then his game went in reverse.
During the eight games he played leading up to that KU game on Feb. 13, Henriquez averaged 2.4 points, attempted just 12 total shots, grabbed 2.4 rebounds and recorded .75 blocks in 10.8 minutes per game. In six of those contests he scored two points or less, and in five of the games he played eight minutes or less.
That’s when the challenge came.
“I told him, ‘look at what Withey is doing,’” Martin said. ‘“He was a guy that hardly played last season, now look at him. And now you can’t get on the floor. Why can’t you do what he’s doing?’”
Since that day, he has been. Against KU, Henriquez blocked six shots, scored four points and had four rebounds in 26 minutes. Over his last six games, including the loss to the Jayhawks, he is averaging 9.3 points on 59 percent shooting (23-of-39 from the field. During that stretch he’s blocked an average of four shots per game, averaged 6.7 rebounds, committed just 2.3 fouls per game and is averaging 26 minutes during those six contests.
Martin said he’s proud of the way Henriquez, who was suspended for the Wildcats’ win at Oklahoma State on Jan. 21, is playing right now.
“Over the last two-and-a-half, three years, he has worked so hard, he has put in the time,” Martin said. “Now he’s been really zoned in and focused. When you have a guy who has worked so hard to put himself in a place and then is now focused in to go do the job and now he starts having success, you find a person that is going to gain confidence. You don’t gain confidence because you’re talented, you gain confidence because you’ve put in the time to put yourself in the moment and be willing to take advantage of it and then be focused in the moment. That’s what he’s doing right now.”
And because of his presence, the Wildcats have been shutting their opponents down on offense.
“The team has gotten confidence in him, meaning guys are more receptive to playing the way we want to play defensively because they know he’s back there to protect,” Martin said. “That makes you a better team, that confidence spreads. I’m real happy for him because I know how hard he’s worked to put himself where he’s at right now.”
Henriquez, the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots, has 67 this season, which ranks second in the Big 12 behind Withey. The K-State junior, who is 31st in the country with 2.3 blocks per game, is averaging one blocked shot every 8.2 minutes he’s on the floor. Because of that, Henriquez was named to the Big 12’s All-Defensive Team on Monday, joining the Wildcats’ Rodney McGruder.
So about that challenge…
“It turned my season around,” Henriquez said.