Jordan Henriquez’s position is called “center,” but “goalie” would be just as appropriate for the Kansas State junior.
It’s the presence of the 6-foot-11, 250-pounder at the rim … ahhh, or goal … that allowed Frank Martin to put the rest of the Wildcats in an attack mode on defense around the perimeter in the final weeks of the 2011-12 season.
“We can play the way we want to on defense because they know he’s back there ready to protect the rim,” Martin said of Henriquez, who was recognized by the Big 12 coaches with a position on the Big 12’s All-Defensive team. “That’s awesome to be recognized by the other coaches like that. I’m really happy for him because I know how hard he’s worked.”
Associate head coach Brad Underwood adds of K-State’s defensive philosophy, “It all starts on the ball, but you also have to be able to protect the rim.”
Henriquez is playing a basketball version of “goalie” like few that have ever suited up for the purple and white. His 77 blocked shots broke Curtis Kelly’s record of 74 set last year, which doesn’t even touch on the number of shots that his massive wingspan has altered.
When the Port Chester, N.Y., native swatted away seven shots against Iowa State, he set a K-State single-conference game record, and his three-year career record of 146 blocks has already shattered the former career record of 121 set by Manny Dies from 1995-99.
“He is a difference maker under the rim,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. “Jordan (Henriquez) is a phenomenal defensive player, plus his offensive game has really come on.”
Henriquez demonstrated that in Kansas City last week posting career highs with his 22 points and 14 rebounds in a loss to the Baylor Bears.
“In a bad moment for our team, I’m so proud of him because he hasn’t run away from challenges,” Martin said. “He is willing to learn, and he’s become more consistent. He’s making himself into a heck of a player because of those things.”
Martin added of the final stretch to the season for Henriquez, “He’s really been zoned in and focused for the last six weeks. When you have a guy who has worked so hard to get to a certain place, and is focused on doing his job like he has, that’s when confidence comes. He’s focused in on the moment and playing with a lot of confidence.”
While only playing an average of 14 or 15 minutes through the first half of the season, in the second half his minutes have increased to 23 to 24 per game. In the NCAA Tournament, he played 33 minutes with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocked shots against Southern Mississippi, and against Syracuse played 36 minutes with 14 points and 17 rebounds. The number of rebounds was a school record for an NCAA Tournament game.
“He’s put himself into a position to help us win Big 12 games, and then postseason games,” said Martin. “He had to go through a learning moment, but he did that and you’re seeing the results of his work.”
That learning moment came when K-State opened the Big 12 year with a 4-5 record with Henriquez contributing little.
For the Jan. 9 game against Oklahoma State, Henriquez was indefinitely suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Indefinitely lasted only one game, but the lesson was learned.
“Contrary to what people thought, I was not trying to be a tyrant. I did not hate him, and he did not dislike it here,” said Martin. “He was just being a kid at a moment where we had to learn. We dealt with it.”
Among the last six games as a starter, Henriquez has enjoyed career-games of 22 points and 14 points against Baylor, 19 points and 12 rebounds against Iowa State, and 16 and 8 against Oklahoma State. In his last seven games he has also blocked 28 shots, plus those in the NCAA Tournament.
All of this after a 10-game mid-year segment when he scored more than four points only once, had collected more than five rebounds only twice.
Today Martin says, "My trust in him and his trust in us is what allowed us to move forward. He has been great. Not just because he had been producing, but it’s his whole approach. He’s finding success.”