There are two realities regarding the title chances of this year’s Kansas team.
Reality 1: If they’re going to be a title team they’re going to need Xavier Henry.
Reality 2: By needing Xavier Henry they’re not going to be a title team.
Now the above two aren’t a knock on the Jayhawks’ pre-Henry talents. They aren’t an assertion that Kansas can’t win with underwhelming showings from Aldrich and Collins. They aren’t indications Henry has to be the star of this team for them to matter. No, the two truths are based exclusively on concerns over Henry, a one and done talent who knows he’s one and done, knows he’s talented and will probably play as such. As a primer let’s assume that there have historically been four kinds of one and done talent:
1) The transcendent player: Critics can pan the one and done rule all they want and we won’t argue with many of their arguments, however the idea that the rule has somehow been bad for college basketball and has hurt, and not helped, teams, we can’t agree with. No, since the NBA’s institution of the rule a one and done hasn’t won a championship. But that doesn’t change the fact that a one and done has won a championship (hello Carmelo) and that a number of talents (Greg Oden & Mike Conley, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose) have come close. You can’t claim a rule is ineffective when the last three year’s Final Fours have been populated by said rule’s cast of characters. Consequently we have seen great players do great things with teams they made great and left subsequently. The aforementioned Anthony, Oden, Conley, Love, Rose, Luol Deng. Freshmen may not always dominate championship games but their talent has been felt late into the tournament.
2) The great player who makes a pretty good team good: Probably the largest population of one and dones are talents who go, whether owed to proximity, AAU coaching promotions, glamour or Sonny Vaccaro, to teams that are not necessarily talent factories and turn those programs, however briefly, around. Michael Beasley at Kansas State. O.J. Mayo at U.S.C. Also included in this category are those who go to revolving door programs where outgoing Freshmen are replaced on an ongoing basis by incoming Freshmen. Chris Bosh at George Tech. Thaddeus Young & Javaris Crittendon at Georgia Tech. Probably Derrick Favors at Georgia Tech. Kosta Koufos at Ohio State. BJ Mullens at Ohio State. Other Tall White Guy at Ohio State.
3) The subdued bench talent on the perennial contender: Probably the smallest group, because usually the highly touted recruit that goes to a championship team and wins a championship has had a tendency to return, despite their lottery status. Charlie Vilaneuva at Connecticut. Marreese Speights at Florida. Ed Davis at North Carolina. Whether for the sake of solidifying their stock or the promise of a leadership role on a reloaded roster these young guns have, to varying degrees of success, returned for at least one more year before the siren song of playing the Timberwolves in January called them away. There seems to be one notable exception to this category, which is why it exists at all, Marvin Williams. But because the temptation for the players to bounce out early exists, the inevitably is sooner or later some of them will, and that’s why we’ll keep this as a category.
4) The demonstrative bench talent on the perennial contender: The scourge to many opponents (and even proponents) of the one and done rule, this is the kid who comes to the deep roster with every intention of leaving early and every intention, team be damned, of showcasing why he should be leaving early. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the player is selfish. There’s a fine line between selfishness and the sort of tunnel vision drive that sculpts greatness (anyone watch Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech?). What it does mean, though, is that the player can disrupt the delicate imperative of any legitimate Tournament team, chemistry. Think Brandan Wright at North Carolina. Jerryd Bayless on an Arizona team that would make the Sweet 16 a year after his departure. Jrue Holliday. Donte Greene. Some of these criticisms may not be fair. Clearly Kevin O’Neill had much to do with Arizona’s underwhelming performance two years ago. Jrue Holliday never really worked in Ben Howland’s system. But in each of these instance’s a player distracted by the NBA distracted his team.
I bring all of this up not to bore you, but to point out that it is a feeling, and purely a feeling, Xavier Henry lands squarely in that fourth category. Yes the season is young. No it is not fair to generalize a player as a teammate on the basis of past behavior (look at O.J. Mayo’s brief Trojan tenure). But there have been past examples of a tendency in Henry to behave, not diva-ish, but with the aura of someone comfortably situated with himself as the center of his own universe. Does committing and de-committing to programs with a Favre indecisiveness, all with the constant justifcating of parents, translate to on court ineffectiveness? Not really. But there were instances in that Memphis game where Henry displayed all the patience of a participant in a McDonald’s All American game, jacking up 3’s 3 seconds into a shot clock, lazyily patrolling the perimeter defensively. This could work on some rosters. It does not work on Kansas’.
This is why I feel differently about John Wall and Kentucky’s current dynamics. Kentucky needs John Wall. Without him they aren’t a top 10 ranked team, without him they aren’t a dark horse – to most, to me they’re a clear cut – candidate for 2010 Tournament champions. John Wall has that rare ability to right previous Calipari wrongs and validate the entirety of poor Patrick Patteron’s sorted Wildcat career. Kansas does not need Xavier Henry. Had they returned with nothing more than last April’s roster intact they still would be a Final Four contender. Henry helps, without question; they need him to get out of the Final Four. But they don’t need him to get to the Final Four. And that creates a difficult dynamic. Particularly for a player of Henry’s talent, and underlying understanding of that talent. It’s only November, and I’ve lost fortunes on late fall speculations of what will happen in spring. But there are reasons for said speculations. And I believe some of them to be sound.