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Tournament Tales ... with John Henson

Wine & Gold's Veteran Big Man Looks Back on His Chapel Hills Days
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer


Tournament Tales ...
with John Henson

Wine & Gold's Veteran Big Man Looks Back on His Chapel Hills Days


It’s not easy being a Tarheel come Tournament time. There’s a deep basketball bloodline to defend and accomplished alumni that demands sustained greatness.

Despite being dealt to the Wine & Gold in early December, former Tarheel John Henson hasn’t yet appeared in a Cavaliers uniform – continuing to mend a wrist injury that’s limited him to just 14 games this season.

During his seven-year NBA career, Henson has established himself as one of the league’s better rim-protectors – averaging 1.67 blocks per over the previous five seasons before being sidelined.

He honed those skills in three successful seasons on Tobacco Road – taking ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012. After three solid campaigns with North Carolina, Henson declared for the 2012 NBA Draft where he was tabbed with the 14th overall pick by the Bucks.

Henson’s Tarheels didn’t quite live up to the school’s lofty expectations.

As a freshman, his UNC squad suffered an embarrassing loss – falling to Dayton in the NIT. As a sophomore, UNC reached the Elite 8 before being tripped up by Brandon Knight’s Kentucky Wildcats.

In his junior season, the Tarheels once again reached the Elite 8 – surviving an overtime scare from OU before being squashed by Kansas in the next round.

In today’s episode of Tournament Tales, the Wine & Gold’s angular big man looks back on his decision to play for North Carolina, his days in Chapel Hill and some pregame motivation from His Airness …

OU gave Henson's Tarheels all they could handle in the 2012 Sweet 16.
Photo by Andy Lyons/via Getty Images


Being born in North Carolina, did that factor into your choice of schools?

John Henson: Well, I was born in North Carolina – Greensboro, about 45 minutes away from UNC – but I kinda grew up in Texas and Florida.

It was between Texas, UCLA and North Carolina. I took a visit to North Carolina and was like: ‘OK, this is where I want to be.’

And the rest is history.

But it was purely for basketball reasons. Obviously, it was North Carolina – so that was a pretty easy decision to commit there. And I think it's one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

That UNC team was loaded – you, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, Reggie Bullock. What was that atmosphere like?

Henson: It was fun; every day was a challenge. Every day we got better, we challenged each other. And I'm still friends with all those guys.

Everybody joked around, but when it was time to work, guys got serious.

It was a fun environment and the coaching staff was good. We had a good time.

"No matter what year a guy went to school, whether you know him or not, you know they're going to help you out, you know they're going to give you good advice and they're going to treat you as a teammate."

John Henson, on the famous North Carolina hoops alum

Almost all North Carolina guys talk about the strong alumni presence. What was that like?

Henson: The old guys want to see you do well. They help you and challenge you – and you want to play well for them.

But I think it’s more of a family environment – everybody's family.

It's one of those situations where no matter what year a guy went to school, whether you know him or not, you know they're going to help you out, you know they're going to give you good advice and they're going to treat you as a teammate.

Does it make for added pressure?

Henson: There's pressure to perform. There's pressure to play well, pressure to represent the name on the front of your jersey.

But that's a good thing, man. That's what you want.

What about the most famous North Carolina alum – Michael Jordan?

Henson: He wasn't necessarily around, but he did come around and say hi when he could.

And he hooked us up with some nice Jordans, so I can't complain.

What can you tell us about the motivation he provided before the Tourney in your sophomore season?

Henson: Where he said if you guys make it the Final Four, I'll get you whatever Jordans you want?

We were walking out of the tunnel of what was at the time the Bobcats' arena. He was just there, and we started talking to him, joking around, saying: 'we need these' and 'we need these.' And he was like: 'Listen, you guys do well and I got whatever you need.'

So, that was kinda cool.

We came up just short, but he still got us the Jordans.

UNC was eliminated by Dayton in the NIT during your freshman season. Did that motivate the team the following year?

Henson: Oh, for sure. That was a rough year.

But I think it did motivate us. We knew we didn't want to go back there and we knew we didn’t want to feel that. So, it was a good motivating factor.

In the Sweet 16 of the 2012 Tourney, a MAC school – Ohio University – takes you to overtime. How concerned were you that night?

Henson: It was a scare, but we never felt like the game was out of control.

I didn't play in the First Round that year. I hurt my wrist and didn't play against Vermont. I played in the next game against Creighton, but I was still a little hurt.

We ran into Kansas in the Elite Eight and we were missing Kendall Marshall, who had broken his wrist. So that was a tough game for us.

But overall, the whole thing, it was so much fun.

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