Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Jeff Goodman's Almost Positive Comments on C.J. Henry (We still know he hates Memphis)
Back to school: MLB prospect joining Memphis
by Jeff Goodman
Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. He can be reached at GoodmanonFOX@aol.com or check out his blog, Good 'N Plenty.
C.J. Henry packed up his belongings at his Tampa, Fla., apartment early Sunday morning while watching a tape of his younger brother, Xavier, dominate an AAU basketball game last month. C.J. proceeded to jump into his blue Range Rover and make a pair of phone calls to the two coaches who roamed the sidelines in last April's national title game — Kansas' Bill Self and John Calipari of Memphis.
C.J. Henry was a 2005 first-round pick of the New York Yankees. His career on the diamond hasn't exactly gone according to plan after George Steinbrenner threw a $1.6 million signing bonus his way out of high school. Vision problems, struggles at the plate and numerous injuries have taken their toll on the former two-sport star.
"It's always been in my head," Henry said about contemplating playing college basketball. "But I just got serious about it. I thought about it when I was watching my brother play and then I thought about it the entire ride home."
That's when he called Self and Calipari to gauge their interest.
Less than 24 hours later, Henry had decided to enroll at Memphis and play basketball this season for the Tigers.
It's a no-risk, high-reward situation for Calipari. Henry, per the terms of the contract he signed out of high school, will have his education paid for by the Yankees. Thus, Memphis won't even have to utilize a scholarship while getting a potential impact guy, a player who was heavily recruited by the likes of Kansas, Memphis, Texas and others out of Putnam City High in Oklahoma.
In addition, the Tigers may have gained the inside track to one of the nation's elite unsigned players.
Xavier (pronounced ZAV-ee-yay) is the younger brother of C.J. and is Scout.com's No. 4 player in the Class of 2009. His co-leaders are Memphis and Kansas.
"It can't hurt," Putnam City coach A.D. Burtschi said of Memphis' chances to land Xavier now that C.J. will play for the Tigers.
"But I don't have any doubt that Xavier is going to make his own decision," Burtschi added. "This isn't a package deal at all, but both of them are smart enough to realize there's going to be speculation."
Burtschi coached C.J. for four years in high school and is entering his fourth year with Xavier.
"He has his own thing and I have mine," C.J. Henry said. "He's going to pick the place that's best for him. If we end up playing together, it would be fun and exciting. I asked him before I committed to Memphis and he said he didn't care."
Henry made the 24-hour trek from Tampa to his home in Oklahoma City on his own. When he returned in the middle of the afternoon, no one was home. However, he met with his entire family around dinnertime and then also spoke with his father, mother and Xavier individually.
Henry had committed to play basketball at Kansas, where both of his parents went to school, prior to the MLB Draft. However, that changed after he was taken 17th overall by the Yankees. He was traded to Philadelphia in a deal that brought Bobby Abreu to New York, but was later released by the Phillies and re-signed by the Yankees last offseason.
This season, he suffered a sprained neck in a freak outfield collision and also sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee in an indecisive slide into home plate. He was hitting .234 in 20 games this season in Single-A ball.
The 22-year-old said he intends to continue to play baseball in the summers, but sounds like someone whose future is more likely in the NBA than playing alongside Alex Rodriguez in the Bronx.
"My game will speak for itself," C.J. Henry said. "My talent level is high and I can play. My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA."
Calipari, who actually coached Henry's father, Carl, when he was an assistant at Kansas, isn't allowed to comment on his newest addition until he is enrolled. Henry said he was flying to Memphis today and would sign up for classes either today or tomorrow.
However, one high-major assistant coach who recruited Henry before he opted to go the baseball route was shocked to hear the news that he was set to play for Memphis.
"I loved him," the coach said. "He's a big guard who can score the ball. He's explosive and can really shoot it. He's more of a combo guard, but I think he can play the point. Because of his size and athleticism, I think he can play right away."
Henry, now at 6-foot-3½ and 220 pounds, may have the opportunity once he sheds a few pounds and gets back into basketball shape. He said the last time he and Xavier played one-on-one was last year and it was also the first time he had ever lost to his younger brother.
"Once I get in basketball shape, I'll show people what I'm capable of," Henry said.
Henry's claim is that he's more of a point guard and he also said Calipari assured him he'd have a chance to compete for the starting point guard position, which appears wide-open but has no shortage of candidates. Willie Kemp backed up Derrick Rose last season, but will be pushed by talented freshman combo guard Tyreke Evans and junior college transfer Roburt Sallie.
"I chose Memphis because of the coach, the personnel and the opportunity to win a national championship," C.J. Henry said. "It was the best situation for me."
The Tigers certainly aren't complaining.