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July 7, 2011

Henson preparing hard for junior year

North Carolina rising junior forward John Henson is a breath of fresh air when it comes to answering questions from reporters.

He's funny, he's engaging, and perhaps best of all, he's honest---both about his teammates and about himself.

And so it was when he told Tar Heel Illustrated recently that the reason he decided not to pursue the NBA after only two years at North Carolina was the simple fact that he didn't think he was ready.

"My thoughts (on the NBA) were serious, but like I always say, Harrison (Barnes) and 'Z' (Tyler Zeller) were better equipped than I was," Henson said.

"I think, you know. I've got some more things to work on. I'm more 'potential' than those guys, and that's what I've been working on this summer---putting everything together."

"My decision was a little bit easier than theirs, and I think we made the right decision," he added.

You won't hear many people among scouts and basketball analysts criticizing Henson's defensive presence---particularly when it comes to shot blocking---but he felt that another year at North Carolina would be invaluable in bringing along other key areas of his game.

"Shot blocking and rebounding can help a team out (in the NBA). That's one thing they do look at, and I feel like if I can develop other aspects of my game and become a complete player, it can only benefit me in the future," he said.

One of the big parts of 'putting everything together' for Henson this summer is the extensive workouts he's conducting with UNC strength coach Jonas Sahratian in the Tar Heel weight room.

Henson indicated to us that he's bulked up to approximately 220 pounds---still pretty lanky for a 6-9 player, but certainly a long way from the sub-200 pounds Henson carried when he arrived in Chapel Hill two years ago.

"You wake up, go to class. You work out at 1:30. Pickup games are at 5:00," said Henson about his summer regimen.

He's been taking advantage of his opportunities this summer playing against high-quality competition in the form of former UNC stars who have made their way back to Chapel Hill.

"You know pros are coming through," he said. "Sean May, Rasheed (Wallace) has been playing, Raymond Felton, Jackie Manuel, Shammond (Williams), David Noel. There are a lot of guys around."

"When we played the Camp games, there were refs out there and it was a little more serious than the pickup games."

"It's always fun to play those guys," Henson continued. "And they make us better, and hopefully we make them better somedays."

One former Heel in particular has been a challenge for Henson this summer.

"Me guarding Jawad (Williams) is always fun, because he's a great player," Henson said. "Sometimes I wonder why he's not in the NBA, because he can put it in the basket. So that's probably the most fun matchup."

Henson admits that it's sometimes hard facing players on the cusp of the NBA or guys who are already fixtures in the NBA, but its teaching him mental toughness.

"Yeah, it (playing the UNC pros) does (teach toughness)," he said. "And you know, I think it's one thing that you've just got to fight through. You've got to get better and just hope for the best. It's skill but also a little luck (playing against the pros), so hopefully they can both hit me at the same time."

Henson then elaborated on some other reasons why he decided to return to North Carolina.

Specifically, his motivation to play another year with his UNC teammates was an important factor in his choice to return.

"Me and 'Z' (Zeller) wanted to come back and play with each other, and I think we've got a great little thing going around there. So the fact that I was coming back helped him, and the fact that he was coming back helped me," Henson said.

"You look at what the team needs, and you look at what other players on the team are doing and you kind of just fit into the puzzle, and I think that's what we all do better than most," he added.

"We can sort of figure out what everyone else needs and everyone elses needs and moves, and that's what we do."

Another important factor for Henson was the opportunity to come back to UNC and have a chance to potentially win a national championship.

"That was one of the biggest reasons I came back. You don't get many chances to win a championship at any level," he said. "So the fact that we have the team that could do it and is favored to do it, that's one of the main reasons why I came back to school. Hopefully we can get it without putting too much pressure on ourselves."

Henson is taking advantage of his opportunity to be in close proximity this summer with former UNC standouts who themselves won NCAA titles.

He's been picking their brains in order to get some insight into their respective journeys to the podium on the first Monday in April.

"I've talked to '09 and '05 guys. And they just said they had the same expectations (of winning a title) and they just had to go out there and play," Henson said.

"I think in '04-'05 they lost their first game (to Santa Clara), and Coach (Joe) Holladay is always like, 'You know, you guys should probably just lose your first game,' because he said when they lost that first game, they got it in their head that they couldn't play down anymore. And you see what happened---they won (the NCAA title)," he added.

While Henson is clearly one of the veteran players of this UNC team, he believes that the team has a pair of quality senior leaders in Zeller and Justin Watts.

Both members of the 2009 NCAA title team, Zeller and Watts have a chance to be the first UNC basketball players in history to win two national championships.

"I think 'Z' and Justin are going to be tremendous in helping us handle expectations, you know, knowing what to expect and helping us out and telling us how to act and what we need to do," Henson said.

"And I think that's a great thing we have for this team is that we have two national champions. So that will be good."

As he continues his preparation for the upcoming season, Henson will continue to log extensive hours in the Smith Center and in the weight room with Sahratian.

Particular areas of focus for Henson include shooting consistency, developing more versatility in the post, and maintaining his diet.

"(My areas of focus this summer are) just consistency with my shot, my form, and the post moves," he said.

"Whether it's eating right, lifting, all that kind of stuff, if I can just get consistency in my daily routine as a player and as a person, I think I'll be just fine."







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