Lon Kruger helps Steve Henson into his jacket during the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Alumni Center in Manhattan, Kansas on October 11, 2013. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
January 16, 2013
By Mark Janssen
The name of Steve Henson is littered over the pages of the Kansas State basketball record book:
- No. 1 in free throw percentage at .900, which included a record 17-of-17 for a single game
- No. 1 in career assists
- No. 2 in career steals
- No. 2 in 3-pointers
- No. 19 in all-time scoring, and with a single game of 41 points at Iowa State
But the one memory the member of the K-State All-Century team carries with him today over his playing days from 1986-1987 to 1989-1990 is this: "I'll always remember those afternoon conference games in Ahearn Field House with the light shining through those windows. My family would be there, my grandparents would be there, and we'd all go out to dinner after the game. Those were special days."
He also reflects, "Walking from the dressing room to the playing floor ... it gave you a feeling that you could jump up and dunk on a 12-foot goal. Your adrenalin was pumping because the student section made it so special."
And, Kansas State was playing winning basketball, which was so special.
In coach Lon Kruger's first four years as the head coach of the Wildcats it was Henson who was his point guard during winning seasons of 20, 25, 19 and 17 games. They were years when Henson became the first K-Stater to ever play in four NCAA Tournaments.
The best of those years was in 1987-88 when the 'Cats placed second in the Big 8 with an 11-3 record and won NCAA postseason games over LaSalle, DePaul and No. 1 seeded Purdue, before losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight in Pontiac, Mich.
"That was Mitch's team," said the now 45-year-old Henson in reference to All-American Mitch Richmond. "He was our star, plus we had a bunch of guys who loved to play and loved to work, and we defended like crazy. Our chemistry was terrific.
"We were all Mitch's biggest fan. We wanted him to be the player that he was," said Henson, who now sits beside Kruger on the Oklahoma bench as an assistant coach. "With guys like Charles Bledsoe, Will Scott and Fred McCoy around Mitch, you're going to win some games."
PRIOR TO K-STATE: Henson says of his home town of McPherson, Kansas: "I think there were more basketball goals in McPherson than anywhere in the country. You would see kids playing all over town. As a kid, you would grow up hearing about the state championships games, and it was a dream to be on one of those teams."
Henson grew up a K-Stater, but it was before the days of Kruger, who starred for the 'Cats from 1970-71 through 1973-74.
"I only heard of the stories of his toughness and leadership, which were two of the things I prided myself on," said Henson.
Like Kruger, Henson was smallish and not the swiftest afoot, but certainly athletic.
Henson was a finalist for the National Punt-Pass-Kick contest as a grade schooler; he held the Youth National Junior Olympic AAU record in the decathlon and high jump while in high school; he was a state track champion in the high jump and javelin; and, he was a two-time first-team All-Stater, not to mention "Mr. Basketball" in Kansas in 1986.
While his Wildcat heroics are well known in basketball, Henson also placed second in the decathlon at the Big 8 track and field championships.
"I got by in high school, but my lack of speed caught up with me in college," said Henson of his track and field days.
While young Mr. Henson is a member of the State of Kansas and K-State Athletics Halls of Fame, his father, Mike, is in the Kansas Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame for his accomplishments at McPherson High and Topeka High.
"McPherson won state championships before me with coach (Jay) Frazier, and Dad won state tournaments after me, but I never won one," said Henson.
On playing for his father, Henson gave a soft chuckle before saying, "It was good."
After a pause, he continued, "I was an emotional player, and at times couldn't control my mouth. At times that made for some long and quiet rides home after games and practices. Then if I had really been mouthy, he'd send me off to run and think about it."