By Rob Miech (contact) - Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 – The Las Vegas Sun
“UNLV assistant headed to sports Hall of Fame in Kansas”
Growing up in central Kansas, UNLV assistant basketball coach Steve Henson dreamed of Olympic decathlon glory and appearing on Wheaties cereal boxes from coast to coast.
“That was my goal and plan and dream,” he said. “I really believed I was one of the top handful of decathletes in the country.” At Kansas State, reality hamstrung him in the sprints. He didn’t have elite wheels. However, switching his focus to basketball has served Henson well.
He played professionally for five NBA teams, and in Greece and Italy, and he coaches for the same man – Lon Kruger – he starred for at Kansas State. Henson, 41, is the only Wildcat to play in four NCAA tournaments. Those hoops achievements will land Henson in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, with Eddie Sutton and Ted Owens and 11 others, in Wichita in an Oct. 4 ceremony.
“It was obvious that basketball would be the better road,” said Henson, the first recruit to sign with Kruger after Kruger took over for the legendary Jack Hartman at Kansas State in 1986. Twenty-three years later, Henson is one of Kruger’s trusted lieutenants.
“I couldn’t have imagined it ending up this way at all,” Henson said. “My parents still talk about how that wasn’t an easy transition for me. I struggled there, badly, the summer before my freshman year.” Henson’s competitive drive impressed Kruger.
“He’s very deserving of that honor,” Kruger said of Henson’s imminent Hall induction. “Young people growing up in the late 1980s in Kansas, in middle school and high school, all emulated Steve Henson.
“Young players aspired to play as hard, and hustle, as Steve did. All the kids had a crew cut like Steve had. He was a folk hero to all those kids.” Henson aimed to earn that status, and Bruce Jenner-like fame, in the decathlon.
His 6-feet-11 high jump stood as the national prep decathlon standard for years, as did his 198-11 javelin distance, among American juniors, at Kansas State. Out of McPherson High, he took a long look at the University of Texas, whose rich track tradition and impressive facilities made Henson pause.
But there was something about Kansas State, the school he had always idolized. Hartman had fallen ill and retired, and Kruger hit Henson with a full-court press. And there was something about Kruger.
“I knew he played two sports at K-State and I heard everyone talk about him,” Henson said. “I don’t remember seeing him play, but everyone talked about how good he was. And he really believed we’d be able to get it rolling.”
For Henson, that meant arriving in Manhattan, Kan., in June 1986, three months before classes started. It was a wise move, because he spent that summer getting knocked around in pick-up basketball games. That prepared him for the start of Kruger’s practices.
“I thought I was a pretty good player,” Henson said. “But those guys wore me out. I was able to use that summer as an adjusting time.” Kruger, who also had Henson on his staff at Illinois and with the Atlanta Hawks, challenged Henson.
“He was tough on me and tough on the guards,” Henson said. “I just embraced all of it, did whatever he asked me to do from Day One. I knew if I could push through it, good things would happen. “And they did.”
At McPherson, Henson played for his father, Mike, who was recently inducted into the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Henson had a decent shooting stroke – in which he opened his left shoulder to shoot high archers, a la Larry Bird – in high school. Kruger altered that style by having Henson square up to the basket.
“It was more compact, more of a solid follow-through,” Henson said. “I didn’t have to jump too high or be too quick. I trusted that. I have great respect for both of those guys.”
Henson thought he’d go to Kansas State, play a little basketball, and get bigger, faster and stronger for the decathlon, in which athletes peak in their late 20s.
Maybe he’d appear in an Olympics. Instead, former Wildcats hoops and track teammate Steve Fritz blossomed in the decathlon, finishing 20 points from the bronze medal in the Atlanta Games in 1996. “He kind of ended up doing what I dreamed of,” Henson said.
Henson still holds Kansas State career basketball records with 582 assists, 240 3-point shots, a 90 percent free-throw touch, 190 steals, 127 games played, 118 starts and 4,474 minutes. He made the Kansas State all-century team in 2003.
“Steve was a basketball junkie who has always been passionate about working with young players, and helping them develop both on and off the court,” Kruger said. “He does a terrific job, in every way, as a coach.”
Ted Hayes, the president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, also is Henson’s uncle. Everything is fine, Hayes said in a springtime phone message to Henson, just give me a call. Wichita is a 45-minute drive south from McPherson. “He was excited,” Henson said. “He’s worked hard putting the Hall of Fame together. He’s put his heart and soul into it, and he gave me the news before it leaked out.
“He asked if I could be available and make it back for the ceremony. It’s very exciting, and it’s going to be fun for him and all my other family members.”