Two years ago many people were ready to write John Henson off as a bust.
Now the 6-foot-11 junior with the jetliner wingspan may just turn out to be the national player of the year before all is said and done.
Henson is a testament to the impatience and lack of understanding of young athletes by the general public. Obviously Coach Roy Williams saw the potential. Henson just had to play the game at this level and grow into his body and his game.
"John's ability to score the basketball helps us so much," said sophomore Harrison Barnes, who tied Henson with a team-high 18 points in the 101-75 victory against Mississippi Valley State on Sunday at the Smith Center.
"He gives us another threat down low," Barnes said. "Last year, people saw him as a defensive player who was going to get you 10 points and 15 rebounds. Now, he had 18 tonight. It's going to make the defense collapse down, and we just have to hit our 3-pointers."
Henson had 14 rebounds and three assists to go with his 18 points. The growth in his confidence is as obvious as his touch and consistency on his baseline jump shot. One of his assists was a beautiful touch pass to Tyler Zeller for an easy bucket on the break.
"We understand each other offensively and even more so defensively," Zeller said. "I know he can block shots, so I am able to block out. I know he is a great rebounder, so I can take off and run. We know each other and know where each other is going to be."
Zeller and Henson impressed Delta Devils coach Sean Woods, a former Kentucky player.
"They looked much better today than I saw the last two games," Woods said. "Those two guys, those two big guys were more assertive today than they've been in the past. We made them play. We challenged them, and they stepped up to the plate and showed why they are who they are."
Playing against former UNC players in the off-season has helped him a great deal, Henson said.
"I told someone earlier this week, it's been two years in progress," Henson said. "What helped me was playing against the pros. They make you have to do a different move. It's something I've been working on. It's just the third game. I just hope I can keep it up through March.
Former Tar Heel Rasheed Wallace has been a particular help, Henson said.
"Rasheed, he's texts me after every game," Henson said. "He gives me some pointers. We have a good relationship. He has helped me a lot. Watching him, what he does against us [in pickup] games, I can say I stole some of his stuff."
Aside from missing some point-blank shots, Zeller continued his solid, which emerged so strongly at the end of last season. He had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and he continues to get at least one or two buckets a game by running the floor and receiving long passes from point guard Kendall Marshall.
Marshall had eight assists and two turnovers, while Dexter Strickland had six assists and two turnovers.
"He is a superb passer," Zeller said of Marshall. "We love working with each other. I always tease him that if he pitches it ahead he doesn't have to run down the floor, and he gets a little bit of a break."
The top-ranked Tar Heels improved to 3-0 heading into Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. game against Tennessee State at the Smith Center.