On this very court just 21 months ago, Xavier Henry suffered an injury that sent his career into a nose dive.
Just nine games into his fifth NBA season, Henry — then with the Lakers — ruptured his left Achilles tendon in practice, ending his 2014-15 season and subsequently being waived by the Lakers.
Since then, he has kept his focused locked on another shot at the NBA.
That drive led him to Wednesday’s free agent minicamp at the Lakers’ practice facility, where General Manager Mitch Kupchak labeled him as “one of the players that we did want to take a look at.”
The Lakers only have so many spots left to fill for their 20-man training camp roster, and space for Henry is far from guaranteed. But it is nonetheless a major step for a player whose career could have very well been over.
“I’ve been doing a lot of workouts this summer with a lot of different teams and getting feedback and seeing how I feel,” he said. “I’ve been feeling really good. I’m feeling blessed that I can even play basketball again.”
Resiliency was needed for Henry to even arrive back on the doorstep of an NBA opportunity.
In April 2014 — at the end of a breakout season that saw him average 10.0 points in 21.1 minutes — he had to undergo surgeries for both a torn ligament in his left wrist and a cartilage abnormality in his right knee.
Seven months later, the ACL rupture resulted in him being out of basketball for nearly an entire year.
“It was unbelievably tough,” he said. “For two years (of injuries) — a long time — it’s depressing. You go through so many emotions. So many: ‘Do I quit? Is it over?’
“I just know with the person I am for sure, I’ve just always been the tough guy that just won’t say no. I just keep going, keep going.”
Henry did just that, working his way to a training camp invite from Golden State last season before being acquired by its D-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, shortly after.
Henry credited Santa Cruz’s training and coaching staffs with assisting his rehab and never letting him get too down on himself. In spite of this, it was still a far-from-perfect path for Henry, who only played nine games for the team.
Nonetheless, his dedication to grinding his way back to the court was noticed from afar by his former general manager.
“I think it’s a testament to a great kid,” Kupchak said. “That’s nothing new to us. We know the kid and we know what kind of heart he has. He’s had several different types of injuries and he’s worked his way through it. He’s still young enough to make a run at the NBA and playing basketball professionally, so we wish him the best.”
Only 25 years old, Henry has trudged through more struggles than most of his peers. But these obstacles have only increased his gratitude.
“I think (I’ve learned) patience, not to get down on yourself and really just to count your blessings,” Henry said. “Right now, every second I’m on the court I enjoy it. I love it. No matter what it is (or how) hard, tough. Because I’m been through a year and a half, two years where I wasn’t able to do anything.
“Now I’m running, jumping, scoring, defense — everything again. I’m starting to really enjoy the process more than take it so seriously.”
Henry is, however, serious about making his way back onto an NBA roster. In his workouts with various teams his focus is to “just be the best player here.”
With his Lakers workout in particular, he helped his team to victory in the scrimmage portion of the minicamp, even throwing down a driving dunk that certainly looked like the gravity-thwarting Henry of old.
And while Kupchak says Henry “finally looks like he’s healthy,” the 12th pick of the 2010 draft is even more confident.
“I’m back to where I need to be,” Henry said. “I’m just trying to show everybody else that I’m back.”