Henson Followed in Kruger's Footsteps

Editor's Note:  This is the third of a four-part series, exclusive to OSR, on four Kansas Staters - Don Calhoun, Ken Swenson, Steve Henson and Ken Mahoney - who will be inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita on Sunday.This article first appeared in the Kansas State Official Sports Report on Oct. 1, 2009. To signup for the free subscription to the Kansas State Official Sports Report, visit www.officialsportsreport.com.

by Mark Janssen, Senior Writer, Kansas State Official Sports Report 

MANHATTAN, Kan. - "A huge honor, a surprise, what a great group to go in with."

Those are the words of former Kansas State basketball standout Steve Henson on his upcoming induction on Sunday into the Kansas Sports Hall Fame.

For the multi-talented Henson, it should be a huge honor, but certainly not a surprise.

Check out this resume, at all ages:

  • Finalist in national Punt-Pass-and Kick contest while in grade school.
  • Youth National Junior Olympic AAU champion and record-setter in the decathlon and high jump.
  • Two-time first team All-State basketball player at McPherson High School
  • Won "Mr. Kansas Basketball" award in 1986.
  • Kansas prep state champion in high jump and javelin.
  • At Kansas State, set 11 conference and 21 KSU records including both season and career records for assists, steals, and FT percentage.
  • Scored 1,655 points - fourth in KSU history; member of the All-Century Team.
  • Placed in the decathlon at the Big 8 track championships; a 7-foot high jumper.
  • A second-round draft choice of the Milwaukee Bucks. He enjoyed a seven-year career in the National Basketball Association.

Henson says it all started on a host of cement slabs in McPherson.

"I think there are more baskets in McPherson than anywhere in the country," said Henson. "You would see kids playing all over the town. As a kid, you would grow up hearing about the state championship teams, and it was a dream to be on one."

It was also in McPherson where Henson said, "I grew up loving K-State."

He loved it enough that as a high schooler, he and his buddies would buy a ticket and sneak under the bleachers in Ahearn Field House to sit in the student section.

"To this day, I've never seen a student section like that," said Henson, who is now in his sixth season as an assistant coach to Lon Kruger at UNLV, where Rivals.com recently named him one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the nation. "That atmosphere is the best I've ever been around."

Henson considered taking his talents to Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and Alabama, but with the hiring of Kruger to replace coach Jack Hartman, the decision became easy.

"I was very young when he (Kruger) was playing, but I heard the stories of his toughness and leadership," said Henson. "Those were some things I prided myself on."

Plus, Henson knew that Kruger played both basketball and baseball for the Wildcats, and he had ambitions of doubling in basketball and track.

Finally,  "I heard they had signed Mitch (Richmond), Charles (Bledsoe), and those guys," Henson said. "Put any four guys around Mitch and you were going to win some ballgames."

As a high schooler, Henson had attended a pair of Hartman basketball camps, but says he isn't sure if he would have attended K-State had he remained as the coach.

"I had unbelievable respect for coach Hartman, but toward the end of his coaching career he had some health issues and the program had slipped some," Henson said.

Henson would play the final two years in Ahearn Field House, and the first two seasons in Bramlage Coliseum.

"I'll never forget that final game with coach (Kruger) and coach (Norm) Stewart going toe-to-toe at half-court," Henson said of the final Ahearn game against Missouri. "That game was a war."

While having oodles of K-State memories, "The Walk" from the dressing room to the Ahearn floor ranks as one of the best.

"It's hard to describe," said Henson. "Getting to those steps and going into the arena was such a thrill. You'd be so fired up you could hardly control yourself."

A four-year starter at K-State from 1986-90, Henson was a two-time honorable mention All-American and earned All-Big Eight Conference honors as a junior and senior.

He stands as the only player in school history to play in four NCAA Tournaments, including leading the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 1988.

It hasn't been too bad of a year for the Henson family as this past spring his father, Mike, was inducted into the Kansas Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame for his accomplishments at McPherson High School and Topeka High School.

Playing for his dad for three seasons, Henson laughed, "McPherson won state championships before me with coach (Jay) Fraizer, and dad won state tournaments after me, but I never won one."

Asked about playing for his dad, Henson said, "It was good. (Pause) 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."