Tree short years ago, Ja’Shon Henry was throwing down dunks at the Bedford Road Invitational Tournament. This past March, Henry became the second Saskatoon-born player to play on, arguably, the world’s biggest collegiate stage: the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament — also known as March Madness.
Henry spent three years at St. Joseph High School in Saskatoon. The 6-6 guard and forward then took his talents to the Notre Dame Hounds program in Wilcox, Sask. The Hounds have earned a reputation as an athletic preparation school as they’ve helped players in the past land post-secondary, amateur and professional opportunities in their respective sports.
For a basketball player from Saskatchewan, you really have to put yourself out there and perform at an exceptional level to get noticed. It’s safe to say that our province isn’t on the maps of most NCAA division I scouts. Henry had to know this as he went on to average 28.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for Notre Dame. His work for the Hounds landed him on the radars of NCAA scouts.
“Obviously, it’s a huge honour to be able to represent where you’re from on that sort of a stage — it’s an amazing feeling,” Henry said. “Coming from Saskatchewan, a lot of people may have thought I was crazy to say that ‘Someday, it will be me playing in that tournament.’ But being able to fnally say I did it, all the while representing my province, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Henry is the first Saskatoon-born player to play in the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament since Trey Lyles did so with the University of Kentucky in 2014-2015. Lyles went on to be the highest-drafed player from the province, picked 12th overall by the Utah Jazz.
“As a kid from Saskatchewan, we can be overlooked as basketball players. Being able to show that we can play and prove that there is talent, that’s a huge honour,” Henry said.
Henry’s future as a Bradley [University] Brave looks bright as the 20-year-old freshman averaged 12 minutes per game while shooting 52.9 per cent from the field. For a true freshman from Canada to have a real role on a division I team is an enormously impressive feat in itself.
Normally, overlooked or under-scouted players opt to red-shirt for a year. Redshirting is an option offered by the NCAA where student athletes can still practice and be a part of their team, but they don’t play in a game for an entire season. This allows a player to focus on their development without using any of their four years of playing time eligibility.
Henry has three more seasons of eligibility left to keep improving his game and hopefully earn a professional opportunity after college. But he is just focused on where he’s at with his game right now.
“My focus is to tune up little things in my game to make me more of a threat. I’m excited to get back on the floor and start training because the of-season is where the work is put in to shine during the season,” Henry said.
Despite carrying a lead into halftime, Henry and the 15- seed Braves were eliminated by the 2-seed Michigan State Spartans in the opening round of action on March 21 by a score of 76-65. It was the first tournament appearance for the Braves since 2006.
Keep an eye out for Henry and the Braves next season, and don’t be afraid to pencil them down to make a deep run in next year’s tournament.
Photo: Bradley University / Supplied