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Game of Henriquez-Roberts Maturing

By Mark Janssen

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Coaches aren't supposed to have favorites, but if one cornered Frank Martin and forced him into an off-the-record comment about his appreciation of individual talent, it's a good bet that Jordan Henriquez-Roberts would be one of the first mentioned.

Even as a naïve freshman a year ago, and now into this sophomore season, Martin says of Henriquez-Roberts, "He has such a willingness to learn. He doesn't care if you scream at him or hug him. He shows up the next day and wants more.

"That's what it's about ... people who want more and people who want to grow. That's why his successful moments this year are so rewarding to me," said the Wildcat coach. "In good times and difficult times, he's been a guy willing to accept responsibility. From day one, you couldn't break his spirit. I love people like that."

In the last 14 games when he has averaged under 17 minutes per game, Henriquez-Roberts has averaged 4.4 points on 50 percent shooting with 5.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots, compared with numbers of 3.2 points, 44 percent shooting and 3.9 rebounds in his first 17 games.

Against Texas, Henriquez-Roberts had eight points and eight rebounds, and against Iowa State he had five points, seven rebounds, five blocks and three steals in 27 minutes.

"If your practice habits are good, you will get game opportunities," Martin said. "If you perform in game opportunities, then you build trust and I continue to develop trust in Jordan. He continues to protect the rim, and he is really in tune with what we are doing defensively."

Martin admits that to get to this point, "I've been hard on JO People talk about how hard I was on Jacob (Pullen), well, I'm hard on JO because he has so much to give and we're trying to figure out how he can give it."

Henriquez-Roberts says the adjustment has come in developing a "mental toughness." That, and learning how to play the game the right way when you're 7-feet tall and 240 pounds.

"In high school, you sort of play like you want," said Henriquez-Roberts, who attended Port Chester High School, and later The Winchendon (Mass.) Prep School. "Some high school coaches have control, while others do not. As tall as I was, there were times where you could just sort of do whatever you wanted against guys 6-6 and 6-7."

At times, that meant Henriquez-Roberts would take his 84-inch frame outside where he would cast up 3's on occasion.

"Nobody asked him to play the low post before he got here, and you couldn't pass him the ball because you knew he couldn't catch it," Martin said. "Now, his hands have improved, he's not as worried about the contact inside, he's finding the angles and getting the ball to the rim and scoring.

"He's better at everything," Martin said. "He just needs to become more consistent with his techniques, and the most important thing with JO is his strength and learning how to deal with contact."

Henriquez-Roberts demonstrated that improvement with a 10-point, 5-rebound performance in K-State's 84-68 win over Kansas when he personally out-rebounded KU's Morris twins.

And, he's been pivotal in both games against Missouri scoring 14 points with six rebounds in Columbia, and coming back for a 6-point, 9-rebound game in Manhattan, plus had a double-eight game in points and rebounds at No. 7 Texas.

Henriquez-Roberts says part of his improvement has come with more of an opportunity created when fellow insiders Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge left the program earlier this season.

"That definitely motivated me," he said. "I stepped up my practice because I knew I was going to play, and then when my name was called (to play) there was more focus to step up and contribute."

Even in those days when JO's minutes were limited, Martin called him a "positive influence" to the team.

"I call him my 7-foot beat-box," said Martin in reference to the Wildcats' pregame hallway routine prior to taking the floor. "You see Martavious doing the dancing, well, JO is the guy beating on the wall. He's my 7-foot beat-box. He has a positive approach to his team and that carries over to the floor. Everyone knows I'm hard on him, but he has a willingness to be coached and be pushed."

In addition to adjusting away from do-as-you-please high school ball, JO also had to slow his pace of life from the Big Apple to the Little Apple.

As a 14-year-old freshman, Henriquez-Roberts lived with his mother, Lisa, on Long Island and commuted to school 90 minutes each way, each day, to Rice High School.

"I'd get on the Long Island Railroad around 6:15, take it to Penn Station, and take the subway into Harlem," he said. "On the way home at the end of the day I'd end up falling asleep and missing my stop. I would have to get off the train, and then back on. I got to know the conductor, and since I was so young he would let me back on the train without charging me."

As a sophomore, JO lived with his father, Anthony, in Queens so the commute by bus cut the travel time in half.

It was only as a junior and senior that he moved to Port Chester, N.Y., and Port Chester High.

Oh, as for bringing out that high school 3-point game for the K-State fans, Henriquez-Roberts breaks into a wide smile as he says, "When the time comes, the time comes. (Smiling even more) I can hit them."

   
We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.