Every college basketball player responds to some type of motivation more than others.
Some players need to be challenged by their coach. Others play their best when disrespected by an opponent or pushed by a teammate for playing time.
Kansas State basketball coach Frank Martin spent a good chunk of the season trying to get junior 7-footer Jordan Henriquez going. Martin tried starting Henriquez, tried benching him and tried suspending him. Turns out all Henriquez needed was to see someone else with his same skill set and body type play at a high level.
Ever since, Henriquez has been one of the best shot-blockers in the nation.
The turning point was in February when K-State played Kansas at Bramlage Coliseum. Henriquez was going up against KU 7-foot center Jeff Withey, a player Henriquez dominated in a head-to-head matchup a year earlier. But Withey was on a roll heading into the game, having tallied a double-double with 18 points and 20 rebounds against Oklahoma State and 25 points in a win at Baylor.
Martin sat Henriquez down and asked him why he couldn’t play the same way.
“It was just me communicating with him so he remembered, ‘I’m not that bad,’” Martin said. “All I was trying to tell him was, ‘Hey, man, at this time last year you had a (heck) of a game and helped us win. Withey couldn’t get in the game. Now, a year later, this guy is dominating the league and I can’t get you to find consistency.’ ”
Henriquez emerged a changed man. He blocked six shots against KU and has been dynamite ever since. In his past eight games, he has averaged four blocks and has scored 16 or more points three times. In his first 24 games, he averaged 1.8 blocks and scored more than 12 points just once.
The turnaround might not have happened if not for the motivation provided by Martin and Withey.
“That’s exactly where it started,” Henriquez said. “A few games before that, I was trying to play hard. But that day in practice, that shootaround, that game, something clicked. I’ve been leaving it all on the floor ever since.
“After hearing Frank say those things to me, I feel like I’ve been doing what is best for the team.”
Henriquez has established himself as a low-post presence on defense, became the program’s all-time leader in blocked shots and has been a vital contributor for the Wildcats. So vital that Martin no longer feels comfortable taking Henriquez out of games for more than a few minutes. He was at his best against Baylor in K-State’s Big 12 tournament loss last week, when he scored 22 points and snared 14 rebounds.
His contributions go beyond numbers, though. His improved timing as a shot-blocker has allowed him to alter the majority of shots taken near the rim.
“I think he is doing an awesome job,” senior forward Jamar Samuels said. “He’s getting more confident with his defensive attacking. It’s been a lot easier for him. I’m not sure what more Jordan can do. He’s doing it all right now.”
He’s hoping to do more in the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s catching the ball and you can see that confidence growing in him,” Martin said. “In games and in practice he stays after it. He’s not getting pushed around like earlier in the year He’s a great kid. He’s been big for us lately.”
If he finds himself in need of added motivation in the next few days, Henriquez knows exactly what to do: Think of what got his game going in the first place.
“I want another shot at (Withey),” Henriquez said. “You never know what the tournament brings. If we’re fortunate enough to win enough games, maybe we’ll get another shot at Kansas.”