Michigan State basketball's Aaron Henry testing NBA draft process for second straight year

Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read

Aaron Henry will enter the NBA draft for the second straight spring.

The Michigan State basketball junior announced Monday via social media he will again test the process of turning pro. Henry declared for the 2020 draft last April but withdrew his name in August.

Henry spent the weekend working out with Chris Brickley in New York according to videos posted to the NBA skills trainer's Instagram. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound wing from Indianapolis earned third-team All-Big Ten honors this season, leading the Spartans with 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals in 32.5 minutes. Henry shot 44.9% overall and 29.6% on 3-pointers.

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“Aaron coming back this year was I think the best thing with all the uncertainties with COVID,” Henry’s father, James, told the Free Press on March 9. “Aaron was going to get drafted, although it was going to be in a lower place than what it's gonna to be this year ultimately. But I was like, 'Man, go back, do this the right way, show the things that the teams say that you needed to show.'”

Michigan State's Aaron Henry dunks past Michigan's Hunter Dickinson (1) and Franz Wagner (21) during the first half at Crisler Center on March 4, 2021 in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State's Aaron Henry dunks past Michigan's Hunter Dickinson (1) and Franz Wagner (21) during the first half at Crisler Center on March 4, 2021 in Ann Arbor.

Recent mock drafts put Henry in the early second round, with ESPN ranking him as the No. 32 prospect, CBSSports.com ranking him No. 33 and Sports Illustrated projecting him to go to Brooklyn at pick No. 42.

However, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie in his most recent mock draft projects Henry as a late first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 28. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman projects Henry to the Nets one pick earlier at No. 27 due to his offensive development this season.

“Few players have helped themselves more over the last month than Henry,” Vecenie wrote. “He’s long been one of the best wing defenders in college hoops, but he’s starting to add the offensive aggressiveness to match. … He’s tough and plays with a real edge as a driver. He’s not a great shooter, but he’s much better directly off the catch than he is off the bounce. He’s asked to create more plays now than he will be in the pros, which leads to some inefficiency.

“But if you think the shooting can improve, he’s a great defender with NBA size on the wing, a good passer and a tough dude who knows what it takes to win from his years under (coach) Tom Izzo. I’m a believer in Henry, and teams are starting to come around on him.”

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The NBA has yet to announce if the annual scouting combine that was canceled a year ago will be held, or when and where this year’s draft will be held.

Henry had two more years of eligibility left with the COVID-19 waiver for the 2020-21 season.

As a freshman, Henry emerged as a starter on the Spartans’ 2019 Final Four team after Joshua Langford’s season-ending foot injury, going from averaging 14.5 minutes a game through December to playing 25.7 minutes in the final 26 games. He averaged 6.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 22.0 minutes, but that season was most remembered for his heated sideline exchange with Izzo during a first-round NCAA tournament game against Bradley. It became a national story, even though Henry thought the situation was overblown and his father approved of how Izzo handled it.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and forward Aaron Henry look on during the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers at Breslin Center, March 2, 2021.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and forward Aaron Henry look on during the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers at Breslin Center, March 2, 2021.

“All of these things have made him who he is,” James Henry said of his son. “The things he's had to learn to come through, the things that he's had to overcome, to hold things together for himself and be accountable to his teammates and let coach make him what he needed to be so he can take that next step. I think he's what he's done a wonderful job. …

“He's a very cerebral player. And when Aaron is clear-minded and there's nothing on his mind, he's like Picasso out there. I mean, honestly, and I'm not saying that just because he's my son. Yeah. He's a joy to watch on the court if you watch what he does.”

As a sophomore in 2019-20, Henry averaged 10.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists while starting 29 of his 30 games. He shot 44.1% overall, including 34.4% from 3-point range, while providing lock-down perimeter defense and generating 25 steals and 17 blocks. After the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments were canceled due to the pandemic, Henry explored his options with the draft.

“I had sporadic moments last year as well, where I would be here and be good in some games, and in some games I wouldn't be as good,” Henry said March 9 before the Big Ten tournament. It's a process for everybody. ... You're gonna have ups and downs, but you're growing every moment. Whether it's your best game or your worst game, you're seeing what you need to do and what not to do. But emotionally and mentally, you're seeing where you're at and where you can go.”

Henry is just the second Spartan to enter the draft for a second time under Izzo. Nick Ward became the first by declaring after his sophomore season in 2018, then withdrawing his name and returning for his junior year. The forward got hurt midway through the Spartans’ Final Four run in 2019 but left school to reenter the draft that spring but was not selected. He signed Friday with the Ottawa BlackJacks of the Canadian Elite Basketball League after playing most recently in Turkey.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball's Aaron Henry testing NBA draft again