Despite being a Big Ten All-Defensive Team and All-Big Ten 3rd Team member, Aaron Henry is heading into the NBA draft the same way he did entering college: underrated.
Henry discussed how he developed a chip on his shoulder as an underrated recruit, how playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State prepared him for the NBA, player comparisons he received from teams, and much more with HoopsHype.
When did you realize you could be an NBA player?
Henry: I really felt like it’s always been inside of me. Honestly, every player has a thing where they go to college or that time in their life where they need some direction. Michigan State was exactly the direction I needed. I needed coach Tom Izzo to be on me consistently every day to harp on me. I needed him to be there for me in ways that I didn’t even know for myself. I just knew I had the talent and potential to always do so. It was just a matter of when everything was going to click. I’m just glad my situation worked out the way it did.
Did you ever have a doubt you’d become an NBA player?
Henry: I wouldn’t say a doubt. I always felt like I’ve always been a worker. It was just a matter of my route getting there and where I’ll end up. I feel like all the tools I come with off the court will carry me on the court and how to work hard and treat people.
What was it like playing for Tom Izzo, and how would you describe him?
Henry: It was challenging in ways that young freshmen like myself coming into college didn’t understand. He really makes people better from the day they get on campus to the day they leave. Not only on the court but off the court as well. He sets the standard so high that, to an extent, it almost replaces the standard you had for yourself. I’m really glad and fortunate everything worked out the way it did. I don’t think I’d be in the position I’m in today if it weren’t for Michigan State.
What were the benefits of staying in college and playing three seasons?
Henry: I’m coming in with structure and a body that’s ready to compete from day one. Understanding the right way to do things. I feel like spending eight months at a college or university can prepare you for some things. To get the full experience of being there for three years on my own and really growing up there and living the ups and downs of being a college student and preparing for that next step in my professional life is time you can’t replace. I wouldn’t change anything for the world, whether I was a one-and-done player or even if I had a chance to go straight to the NBA. I felt like it was what was really needed for me.
Your agent, Mike Miller, said you have ‘lottery talent.’ What did you think of that?
Henry: It’s cool to have someone like that in your corner like a champion. It means the world. He’s done things that hopefully I plan to do in the NBA. I don’t think he’s lying at all. I really feel like that when you cut the film on me and look at the things I can do and watch the things that happened this year. We made the tournament even when we weren’t expected to. It was a down year for Michigan State, but we still kept giving everyone a run for their money. We competed. I did as best I could. I improved every year. There’s a track record of me continuing to grow.
Do you feel underrated coming into the draft?
Henry: Absolutely I feel underrated, but what else is new? It’s been like that since I was 16 years old in high school. Homeschools didn’t even recruit me. It always happens, but I always end up making the most of my opportunities. I wasn’t even expected to play when I came to Michigan State as a freshman, and I beat the odds there. Whatever happens Thursday (NBA Draft) happens. I’m a worker. I’m going to find my way like I always have. I’ve always been overlooked, under-recruited, underrated in the process. Hard work will beat everything. That’s what I’m about.
Where do you think you rank against the other forwards in the draft?
Henry: At the top for sure. I don’t know anybody who would give you a different answer. I belong up there for sure. There’s not much I can’t do. My free throw percentage went up. I’ve shown I can shoot it between the 34-35 percent (three-point) clip for a season playing on or off the ball. I can defend with the best of them and rebound. I can pass. A team is going to be happy with what they get from me.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Henry: My strengths are being able to guard multiple positions and understanding that I’m a team-first guy. I’m as better of a teammate and person as I am a player, for sure. Understanding the versatility I bring to the game. There’s nothing a coach can’t call on me to do. I can go out there and get us points. I can get another guy a shot. I can defend the best player. I can get us into something. It’s literally whatever the coach calls on me to do and developing into that wherever I’m at. I’m not going to have all the answers on day one, but just to start there and understand, I’m going to hang my hat on defense.
I’m continuing to work on my shooting. I wouldn’t even call that a weakness, honestly. It’s just something I have to continue to get better at just like I have to work on my dribbling game and become a better film watcher. People don’t understand what goes into that. Shooting for sure because that’s such a premium these days. I’m not going to act like I’m Stephen Curry, but I’m not Shaquille O’Neal either. I’ll say that.
Who would you compare your game to now or in the past that’s retired?
Henry: I always ask this question at the end of interviews. Teams see me coming out as Jae’Sean Tate. They always want to compare me to him. PJ Tucker. OG Anunoby. Marcus Smart. I hear Gary Harris sometimes off the build, stature of us, and how we understand the game.
What are your long-term goals?
Henry: To get somewhere and stay. For the people in the building, from the custodians, to the coaching staff, to the front office, to understand that I’m about a winning organization. I’m a winner first. I’ll love everybody and cheer for everybody the same. Hopefully, knowing myself, I’ll work my way into the role I dream of one day.
Why should a team select you with their draft pick?
Henry: I have so much room to grow. I came from a structure where I understand what hard work is, the right way to do things. I’m young. I’ll be 22 in August. I’m eager to learn and get better. I’m just ready to come in and compete right now. My body is ready. I feel like there are ways in which I can contribute right away.