LAWRENCE, Kan. – He's one of the biggest, strongest and most imposing members of the Kansas basketball team. But a few months ago, when the Jayhawks got into a fight with a group of football players outside the athletic dining hall, Xavier Henry was nowhere to be found.
Henry said he and teammate Travis Releford left the area moments before the brawl broke out, and that they didn't even know it had happened until later that night.
"I got lucky," Henry said. "I'm so glad I wasn't there. I don't know what I would've done."
Have you ever been in a fight, Xavier?
"Never," said Henry, laughing bashfully. "I don't like to fight."
That's Henry – good-natured and jovial off the court, but ferocious and cold-hearted on it.
A freshman, it took Henry all of five college games to become a fan favorite at Kansas, where he's averaging 16.8 points for the country's No. 1-ranked squad. Henry initially signed with Memphis but got out of his letter of intent when John Calipari left for Kentucky.
The 6-foot-6 small forward is shooting 47.6 from 3-point range. Some believe Henry – whose older brother, C.J., is also on the team – is on pace to become the first one-and-done player in school history.
Henry talked with Yahoo! Sports last week about his first – and, perhaps, only – college season.
Q: What's been your favorite part about Kansas thus far?
A: Just hanging out with my teammates. We just chill. No one is ever by themselves. We're always in someone else's room.
Q: Doing what?
A: Playing video games. I can't lie. I'm actually kind of good at them. I don't play them as much as I used to, when I had a bunch of free time. But any of the sports games, I'm good at, play Call of Duty and all of the UFC games. Some of the other guys are good, too, though. Marcus Morris is kind of good, too. Markieff Morris is OK and Thomas Robinson is coming up. My brother and I are always going to be competitive, so it doesn't matter if he's good or not. I live with Chase Buford. We've got the PlayStation 3 in the living room and the Xbox in my room, so the setup is pretty good.
Henry is averaging nearly 17 points per game.
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Q: Your brother, C.J., spent some time in the New York Yankees organization before deciding to give college basketball a try. How has it been having him on the team, and what role do you think he'll play?
A: It's good for us to be around one another. We push each other, just because we're competitive in a lot of stuff. He can get kind of smart-alecky a lot. We fight like brothers, but we get along and work together like brothers should, too. As for his role, I don't know what he's capable of right now, because we're all still in a learning phase. We're learning new stuff every day about the offense and the defense and the whole scheme of things up here, so I can't really tell you what he's going to be able to do this year. But he'll make big contributions to the team at some point.
Q: The main thing people seem to notice about you is your physique, which is especially impressive considering you're a freshman. How did you develop such a passion for the weight room?
A: When I was in high school, my dad always told me that I needed an NBA-ready body so that would never be a question. I didn't want anyone to ever look at me and say, "He needs to add strength" so I started getting stronger throughout high school. I really bought into it my junior year. Once I came up here, I lost about 17 pounds just to get toned up and cut up.
Q: How did you lose all of that weight?
A: I'm not doing as much as I used to do at home. Right now I'm just trying to tone up, and I'm working on my core, just to keep my body tight instead of trying to build more muscle. This past summer my whole family was pushing C.J. and I to work out since we couldn't come up to Lawrence. We were working out every day with a personal trainer. He worked on everything with us, from balance to flexibility to strength. He pushed us a lot, and then my parents and my brother pushed me.
Q: Your dad and your mom both played basketball at Kansas. How much did they try to steer you toward becoming a Jayhawk?
A: Not too much. They took the "you-do-what-you-want-to-do" kind of approach. They wouldn't let me pick some bum school, but that made it clear that the choice would be all mine as long as I was going in a good direction.
Q: You initially signed to play with John Calipari at Memphis. What was it like being recruited so heavily by Calipari and Bill Self – the two coaches who squared off for the 2008 national title?
A: It was crazy seeing those two guys and how much they wanted me to come to their schools, but I tried not to think too much about it. [Former Memphis assistant] Josh Pastner, the way he was recruiting me, it was pretty close to stalking. He was calling and texting and everything else you could think of. I like Josh a lot, though. He was just making sure I was all right. He did a good job.
Q: So why did you pick Memphis at first?
A: It was a family thing with Cal. My parents have known him for a really long time, because he was a grad assistant at Kansas when my dad played here. The way he took us in, it was kind of like a family-type atmosphere. Plus, I liked his offense. I liked the way he ran his team.
Q: And Self?
A: It was almost the same way. He takes you in like you're one of his own sons. He's a hard-knocks kind of coach. He'll teach you everything you need to know, but he stays firm with you. The offense is just as good. It's actually more of an NBA-type offense with all of the ball screens, so I like that. And I really love the team.
Q: Calipari tried to get you to go with him to Kentucky, but you opted for Kansas instead? Did any of Kentucky's players give you a hard time about your decision?
Henry isn't lacking for confidence as a freshman.
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
A: I played AAU ball with Daniel Orton. Daniel and I are pretty tight. Daniel really wanted me to come and play with him at Kentucky. It's funny, though … when Coach [Billy] Gillispie left, Daniel was trying to figure out what school he wanted to go to, and he was telling me that he was going to go to Kansas and that I should come with him. But then he stayed with Kentucky, so he tried to get me to come there.
Q: It took you awhile to announce your final decision, and even then there were reports that you weren't confident in your choice. What do you remember about that ordeal?
A: The recruiting stuff got old really quick. I've never wanted all the limelight anyway. It got frustrating because people were saying stuff that wasn't true. They were twisting stories around. Some of the stories were so messed up. They were so stupid. I liked both coaches and I had to make a decision. It'd have been easier if my family had helped me choose or pushed me in one direction. But they kept leaving it all up to me.
Q: You had a lot of dental work done in the summer that prevented you from getting to Lawrence as quickly as you would've liked. What kind of procedure was it?
A: I had to get my braces taken off, I had four root canals and I had to get four wisdom teeth taken out. I had to do all of that back-to-back-to-back. Luckily, I was able to work out at home.
Q: In your first three appearances at Allen Fieldhouse you hit the first shot you took in each game. So much for the freshman butterflies, huh?
A: The first time I went out there I was nervous and stuff like that. You're more nervous about how you're going to play than seeing all those people. Once you get out there, the jitters go away.
Q: Most people think that, by adding you at small forward, the Jayhawks now have all the pieces to win the national title. Does that pressure bother you?
A: The only person who puts pressure on me is myself, because I want to perform well. When they say we needed a three-man … I know I can step in and do it, even though I prefer to be a two-guard. I came here to win. I know I can do whatever they ask me to do.
Q: How do you like playing with an All-American-caliber guard in Sherron Collins?
A: He's a little bulldog. He's real quick. He's always in attack mode. He's always thinking, 'Next play, next play.' He gets a lot of attention. Sometimes all the attention that's focused on him leaves me with open drives and open shots.
Q: So many people assume that you won't spend more than a year at Kansas. How much does it bother you to hear comments like that from people who don't even know you?
A: It definitely bothers me. I didn't put the one-and-done tag on myself. I didn't say, "I'm coming to Kansas, but I'm probably going to be one-and-done." People just think that. So when they hear me talk about how I think I'm capable of it if everything goes well and if I get better, they think, "Oh, he's just cocky." They're misconstruing everything if they think that I'm just looking at Kansas as a pit stop on the way to the league. If it happens, it happens. But that's not how I'm viewing college. I'm having fun.
Q: Honestly, though, would it be that bad to stay in college two or three years?
A: No, it wouldn't be that bad to stay in college multiple years, if that's what you want to do. It's all about what time is best for you. If you pass up your chance, you never know … injuries could happen and all kinds of other things could get in the way. You shouldn't pass up your chance. You should do what's best for you.
Q: OK, a few quick ones. Toughest player you've ever guarded?
A: In AAU we used to play Mean Streets from Chicago with Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon. Rose was the toughest guy I've guarded. He was fast, but he didn't shoot too much, so when he wasn't shooting it was kind of easy.
Q: Favorite Lawrence restaurant, favorite TV and favorite movie?
A: My favorite restaurant is Henry T's. I love the quesadillas there. I always watch "My Wife and Kids," and I like all the "Saw" movies – and I love "Scream 3." It's the scariest movie ever. I saw it one time when I was by myself. I was about 8 years old and I had nightmares forever. It still makes me jump, no matter what. And I'm a big man.