The Bucks’ “Ladder Company”
Sanders, Henson continue climbing toward NBA’s higher ground
If Larry Sanders continues to climb the ladder – and if John Henson continues to follow him – the Milwaukee Bucks could truly have something special.
Sanders was bypassed 14 times in the National Basketball Association Draft of 2010.
Henson waited through 13 selections before his name was called in the 2012 edition.
The Bucks wasted little time seizing the opportunity to draft both, and they have been rewarded.
Sanders, who helped engineer Virginia Commonwealth University’s rise to prominence on the college basketball landscape, started just 12 games of the 112 games he played during his first two NBA seasons. He averaged 4 points and 3 rebounds per outing.
The 6-foot, 11-inch, 235-pound forward/center dedicated himself to working on all elements of his game during the summer of 2012 at IMG Academies in his native Florida. Most importantly, he strived to achieve a controlled pace that would help him avoid foul trouble and not rush the shot opportunities that came his way.
Sanders and the Bucks reaped tremendous dividends during the 2012-13 campaign. He nearly tripled his averages from his second pro season, averaging 9.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in 27.2 minutes a game. He shot a career-best .506 from the field and finished second in the NBA with 2.8 blocks per game.
He set single-game career bests with 24 points against Charlotte on April 1, 20 rebounds versus Boston on Dec. 12 and 10 blocks against Minnesota on Nov. 30, when he achieved his first NBA triple-double (complementing his 10 rejections with 10 points and 12 rebounds). He recorded a team-leading 26 double-doubles and posted the fourth 200-block season in Milwaukee franchise history – the first since Elmore Smith accomplished the feat in 1975-76.
Sanders finished third in the voting for the NBA Most Improved Player Award, yet he didn’t let his emergence get the better of him.
“I want to keep growing as a player both on and off the floor,” Sanders said. “I never want to feel like I've arrived. I don't think I'll ever feel that. I'll always feel like I could have played better or could have done something more. I want to do whatever I can to help my team.
"One thing I really want to do is be consistent. I'm not as consistent as I want to be, but I'm a lot more consistent than I was in the past, and I'm really happy about that. That's been big for me. I just want to keep it up."
On June 12, USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo announced that Sanders was among 27 players who had accepted invitations to attend the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s National Team mini-camp held July 22-25 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Sanders was thrilled at receiving his invitation.
“Just found out I got selected to work out/try out for the USA Basketball Team this summer!” he tweeted. “Such an amazing honor. Glory be to God.”
Sanders’ camp participation was cut short when he sustained a sprained left ankle during a minicamp session July 23 and was forced to miss the final two days of the event.
Still, Sanders’ dramatic upswing of 2012-13 and his inclusion in a USA Basketball showcase – an audition of sorts for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – bode well for Sanders and the Bucks. It should also give Henson something for which to aspire.
The 6-11, 220 forward/center out of the University of North Carolina played even fewer rookie minutes than Sanders, logging 827 over 63 appearances that included nine starts. He averaged 6 points, 4.7 rebounds and .7 blocks.
On those rare occasions when Henson received extended minutes, he responded.
He attained his first pro triple-double with 18 points and 17 rebounds in 27 minutes against the Miami Heat on Nov. 21.
“My parents (Matt and Annette) were there,” Henson said. “They’re from Tampa and they drove over for the game. They were happy.
“It’s just unfortunate we didn’t get the win. But other than that, things went well.”
Henson’s big outing didn’t bring him consistent minutes, but when they did come his way, he performed.
He shot 10-for-11 from the field and scored 20 points against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 2.
He delivered 17 points and career highs of 25 rebounds and seven blocks against the Orlando Magic on April 10.
He completed his rookie campaign with a 28-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 17.
Henson’s outings of 25 and 18 rebounds were the two highest single-game rebounding totals by a Bucks rookie in 25 years.
Henson was asked late in the season about his rookie season eye-openers.
“Just the physicality of the game, watching guys and learning from what they do,” he replied. “I think that has helped me out a lot.
“And not playing is a humbling experience. When I got out there, I try to do as much as I can. I think I could have done a little better on defense, but you have to cherish and take advantage of every opportunity.”
Henson played only briefly during the Bucks’ four-game playoff series against Miami, averaging 1.5 points and 2 rebounds in 8.3 minutes. But he valued being able to experience playoff tenacity.
“The intensity is different,” Henson said when comparing the playoffs to the regular season. “The first half of the first game can be hard to get adjusted to. The second half, you respond. I didn’t get a lot of minutes, but I was ready when I got out there.”
Henson made the most of his second Las Vegas Summer League stint. He averaged 14.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and was named to the 2013 All-NBA Summer League Team along with MVP Ian Clark of Golden State, Jonas Valanciunas of Toronto, Kent Bazemore of Golden State and Jeff Taylor and Cody Zeller of Charlotte.
Henson obviously has bought into a formula for success that he revealed late in his rookie season.
“You just have to play as hard as you can and as well as you can for as long as you can,” he said. “I’ve got to keep trying to play hard and keep building.”
And keep following his teammate up that ladder.