The Los Angeles Lakers opened their season with a surprising victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night. They didn't do it with Pau Gasol dominating down the final stretch of the game from the low post, and they didn't do it with Steve Nash orchestrating the offense. The Lakers did it with a bench unit riding Xavier Henry's game-high and career-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
The former first-round draft pick who was traded in his second year in the league and discarded as a free agent after Year 3 made a huge impact for the Lakers. His night began with a bang, jamming this thunderous dunk down in transition:
But how did he get to this point? Who exactly is Xavier Henry?
Xavier's father, Carl, had a standout four-year college career he began at Oklahoma City University and ended as a Kansas Jayhawk. Carl Henry averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds through his college career and was drafted by the Kansas City Kings in the fourth-round of the 1984 draft. After one year in the NBA, he signed with a professional team in Belgium.
Xavier's mother, Barbara, also played college basketball at Kansas, but the roundball in his blood doesn't stop with his parents, as reported in this profile of Henry by Jenni Carlson of News Oklahoma. His aunt, Vickie Adkins, played at Kansas alongside Barbara. His uncle, Joe Adkins, was a key player for an Oklahoma State Cowboys team that reached the Elite Eight.
Oklahoma's jewel follows his lineage
Eventually the Henry family returned stateside and settled down in Oklahoma, where Xavier began making a name for himself in the basketball world while playing for Putnam City High School. Scout.com ranked Henry the sixth-best high school prospect for the class of 2009, behind Derrick Favors, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, John Henson and Avery Bradley. Those names may look familiar.
SB Nation's own Eddie Maisonet is an Oklahoma native and is familiar with Henry's rise through the "prep-star" world.
"Xavier Henry was regarded by some as the can't-miss prospect in in the 2009 high school recruiting class. The 22-year old man you see now for the Los Angeles Lakers looked virtually the same four years ago as he left Putnam City High School in Oklahoma to take his talents to Lawrence and the Kansas Jayhawks. The word that comes to mind is smooth," Maisonet emailed when asked to reflect on Henry's high school hype.
"I remember going home and watching him and thinking that he'd definitely be a pro at some point, and that was as a junior."
Henry went on to play for Kansas, like most of his family, and averaged 13.4 points while shooting 41 percent from deep for a Jayhawks team that was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll through the majority of the season. The Jayhawks were stunned in the second-round of the NCAA tournament by Northern Iowa, though, and Henry declared for the draft.
One and done
"The consensus has always been that Xavier came out of Kansas way too early," Maisonet wrote of Henry's decision to leave Kansas after his freshman season. "He'd be a rookie in the NBA right now if he'd stayed four years, but he was caught up in that elite prep-star game and felt like he had to keep up with Wall, Favors, Boogie Cousins and Bledsoe."
Henry was No. 13 on ESPN's "Big Board" going into the 2010 NBA Draft. The Memphis Grizzlies drafted Henry with pick No. 12, but he would play a minimal role for the team and was eventually traded to the New Orleans Hornets in January 2012 in a three-team deal involving second-round picks and Marreese Speights. He went on to play for New Orleans through the 2012-13 season.
Through his first three seasons, Henry started in 18 games and averaged 14.4 minutes per game. The newly branded Pelicans did not re-sign Henry during the summer of 2013, and it was unclear if he would find himself on an NBA roster again or if he would be overseas bound like his father.
Opportunities sometimes present themselves because of a perfect storm of circumstances, and that's what the summer of 2013 and the Lakers were for Henry. Kobe Bryant was busy rehabilitating a torn Achilles, and Los Angeles desperately needed youth, wing depth and talent. Dwight Howard left town, leaving the front office with nothing but a mini mid-level exception and the veteran's minimum contract to fill the void created.
Henry signed with the Lakers on a non-guaranteed one-year minimum deal and he became the next in a long-line of wing reclamation projects the Lakers have taken on over the years. There was Shannon Brown, who now finds himself out of a job after being traded to and released by the Washington Wizards. There was Trevor Ariza, who signed a hefty five-year, $33.5 million deal after a breakout playoff performance with the Lakers in 2009. This summer, Earl Clark signed two-year, $9 million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers after becoming more than an anonymous forward during his only season with the Lakers.
This season, the Lakers rolled the dice with Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Henry. Young is the most experienced and Johnson was a top-five selection in the 2010 NBA Draft, but it was Henry who made a lasting impression in their season debut together.
It's anybody's guess whether Henry can become a consistent role player in the NBA, but for the first time in his professional career, he looked like the player who had scouts and Oklahomans buzzing.