John Henson loves to smile. Sometimes, he just cant help it.
Following a poorly played win at Virginia last season, Henson sat at his locker answering questions about the Tar Heels performance that afternoon. As the questions got more critical, a smile emerged on Hensons face.
I dont know what to tell you, he said. We just didnt play well but we got the win, though.
Henson is 6-foot-10, thin, has a wingspan of someone 7-4, can leap through the top of an arena, has an amazing defensive knack for swatting opponents shots anywhere hed like, and is a positive influence inside the locker room.
The Tampa native is also a big kid. He loves to joke around, and if you ever talk to him up close, disregard the long legs and arms and the massive hands, he looks like a kid in his face.
Yeah, I can see that, said teammate Dexter Strickland, a junior like Henson. He certainly acts like one a lot.
But theres something within Henson that transforms him once he steps onto the basketball court. A menacing streak surfaces, occasionally to his and the Tar Heels detriment. But usually, its that extra layer that transitions Henson from a fun-loving jovial sort to a terror on the hardwood.
Henson enjoys blocking shots in a manner than can affect later shot attempts. He enjoys getting into opponents heads, because it gives him an advantage. Heck, hed rather block a shot that slam home a rim-rattling dunk.
I love doing both, he said. I love to dunk. It can either get the crowd going at home or shuts them up on the road. But Id rather get a big block. We can accomplish more as a team off a block than we can from a dunk.
Thats just two points, but a dunk usually stops a possession, leads to a basket for us, and can have a lasting effect.
Often described as Gumby-like, referring to the animated character that is green, long and can easily contort itself and stretch great lengths, Henson was so excited to see a student dressed as Gumby at a game last season, he even tweeted about it that night.
Shoutout to Gumby in the student section I LOVE it! Lol
Students will be shouting for Henson this season perhaps more than ever before. Hes added some offense to his game, and promises those jump hooks that fell a tad short of the basket are a thing of the past.
I think it was more of I had a problem of deciding what I was going to do before I even got the ball, said Henson, who averaged 11.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.2 blocked shots per game a year ago. Now Ive learned how to read a defender and things like that. I think its going to be a smoother hook, and things of that nature.
Overall, though, Henson sees his entire package as much improved from a year ago.
I worked on it a lot, he said. I worked on the face-up jumper as well. Ive just worked on a lot of things and hopefully I can show you guys something over the next couple of months.
Henson was the ACCs Defensive Player of the Year last season, and could have been a first-round selection in the NBA draft. But he didnt think much about that. After spending most of his freshman season on the perimeter, an experiment that clearly didnt work, Henson had just one full season of interior experience in college, so the next level wasnt much of an option.
But it may be next summer, especially if Hensons game is much improved and he helps guide the top-ranked Tar Heels to a national championship.
That said, Henson needs to stay close to what most makes his game tick.
Johns game is still helping us around the backboard, covering the goal, rebounding the ball, running the floor, taking away things from the other team, Carolina coach Roy Williams said. And yes, if he makes a 15-footer, thats great. But the other part of the game is what he has to do for our team to do well.
And if Henson doesnt disappoint his Hall of Fame coach, he likely will be be smiling wider and brighter than ever on the first Monday of next April.