By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
One of the joys of college sports is the opportunity it presents the observer to see a kid grow during his or her time at a school.
At universities like West Virginia, the athletes come in with superior skill but as raw as steak tartare. To see their maturity both physically and mentally grow and watch their game expand and become refined gives college sports something you get nowhere else.
In high school sports, the skill level and competition are far less even, and in the professional sports, while players certainly do grow and improve, it is not normally at the rate you see in college. That is why it is almost foolhardy to assume a 5-star athlete going in will outperform a 3-star athlete throughout his career.
There is just too much involved in stretching an athlete to his potential over the four or five years from 18 to 23 that it is impossible to predict how things will transpire.
All of this is mentioned today because there is a perfect example of watching an athlete blossom before our eyes on the West Virginia University basketball team that opens its Big 12 season this afternoon against TCU in Fort Worth, Texas.
That athlete is Terry Henderson.
Henderson came under coach Bob Huggins’ guidance a year ago, a jump-shooting swingman with a lot of potential but not yet much strength or guile. He, like so many freshmen, was getting by on skill and skill alone.
Huggins, however, saw more than what was before his eyes. He saw a kid who not only could put the ball in the basket from the outside, but one who
could move inside, take a smaller man there and overpower him both in going up to the basket and coming down from it with rebounds.
Henderson was willing to learn.
“That’s one of the things I wanted to put in my game,” he said. “I worked on it this past summer, and I’ve been staying after practice some days. I’m working at close-range stuff, like jump hooks. Hopefully I can get to use it more, just so I can mess up the defenses. Hopefully, they won’t know what I’m going to do.”
He realized, perhaps best in the Purdue game, that to fully take advantage of his ability he would have to widen his horizons.
“He had a terrible shooting game against Purdue, and he didn’t get any rebounds in the game,” said Huggins, not exaggerating in either category.
Henderson was 2-for-10 shooting, just 1-of-6 from 3-point range, and literally was shut out on the boards.
“Not getting any rebounds is not good for his game and not good for ours. We have made it a point of emphasis,” Huggins said.
“That killed me all week. My dad was on me; Huggs was on me. … ‘You can’t go all game without getting any rebounds.’ I knew that was bad. It won’t happen again,” he vowed.
The next time out, against William & Mary, he hit half his 12 shots and had four rebounds, two of them off the offensive boards.
“You’ve got to go get them and sometimes they bounce the other way, but as far as coming up with no rebounds, that’s unacceptable,” he said.
What Henderson did against William & Mary was begin going inside to the basket.
“You have to add more to your game every year,” he said. “I have to start crashing the glass more. I did it more last game, and I have to keep that up.”
It hasn’t come easily or naturally.
“I never played with my back to the basket in high school. I was a jump shooter. I’m starting to put the ball on the floor a little bit more,” he said.
“There’s so much psychology in this game,” Huggins said. “You make one of seven jump shots and you think you had an awful day. but mix in two layups and it’s three for eight and you feel like you had a good day.”
Huggins noted that no one is above adding to his game.
“Look at arguably the two best scoring guards in the how many years. When Michael (Jordan) started getting old, he started putting people on his back and scoring in the post. As Kobe’s (Bryant) gotten older, he’s put people on his back and scored in the post,” he said.
“They both did it to the point that they went and spent time with Hakeem Olajuwon. You try to make guys aware that that’s a valuable option for you. That’s what made Da’Sean Butler so good, that he could score so many different ways.”
And who is a better example of how a college player grows over the years than Da’Sean Butler?
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.