WASHINGTON, D.C. — A week ago, Aaron Henry’s social media was ablaze with hot takes. His coach had chewed him out on national TV, and everyone had an opinion. It was an unlikely way for the freshman to enter the spotlight.
After Friday’s 80-63 win over LSU, the Michigan State player figures to have a few more new followers, but he’s a little more enthusiastic to scroll through his phone after this one.
“I’ll check it,” Henry said, grinning, after a career high 20 points and 38 minutes.
The career night in the wake of a controversial sideline incident in which Tom Izzo ripped into Henry as he exited the court during a timeout was coincidental, Henry said. He wasn’t expecting the bigger role, but he said the tough approach from his coach has driven his improvement.
“I don’t think the attention bothered me at all,” Henry said. “It’s just, people are going to have their opinion on a lot of things, and I know right from wrong. I know when somebody is trying to help me and when somebody is trying to coach me.”
The coaching — if not the scathing rebukes — has had an impact on getting Henry here.
With Matt McQuaid in foul trouble and LSU’s defense leaving room for Henry to work, he took advantage. He finished with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting and added three assists and two blocks.
The rationale for the big game? Henry chalked it up to opportunity and confidence.
“Picking my spots like that, picking my shots, was huge,” he said. “Knowing where the attention would start out.”
That’s the stuff he’s learned from Izzo. The rest came from simply trusting his game.
“I’ve seen myself do these things so many times, so it’s just, what’s stopping me?” Henry said.
On Friday, very little was stopping him. The kick-out jumpers fell, the lay-ups fell, even the off-balance heave toward the basket fell. Sometimes, Henry said, it’s just your night.
Izzo joked that Henry’s 20 points probably topped his season total in scoring, and Henry laughed. Truth be told, though, this was a dramatic improvement for the freshman. It was just his third time in double figures this season and nearly four times his season average.
Henry was more than willing to chalk the success up to the push he’s gotten from his coach, though he said he understands how it might look outside the locker room. It rattled him a bit when he first arrived at Michigan State, too.
“Just not knowing who coach was and when he gets on you when you first get on campus, it’s a little confusing when he talks to you sometimes the way he does,” Henry said. “But it’s all love. And just outgoing to having a game like this, and the previous games I’ve had before where I’m progressing, it just shows me why he stayed on me.”
Izzo said this week that “if I had to rewind … I would’ve done some things differently,” but defended his approach with players.
In other words, the dynamic isn’t likely to change.
For Henry, however, the attention is finally surrounding his game, rather than his shortcomings, and that’s welcome progress.