Demetrius Henry was a top-100 recruit and played like a top-100 recruit early in the season.
A consistent starter who was getting better every game, he finished the non-conference season with a healthy 7.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and was a solid piece among South Carolina’s burgeoning team. Henry wasn’t going to be the takeover scorer, but he didn’t have to be. He just had to do his job and let everyone else do theirs.
The bricks started being laid, though, and Henry could step over them at first. Then he had to hurdle them. Then it became a leap-and-pull-over to broach them.
Five games in the SEC, Henry faces a mortar-glued barrier that is higher and thicker than any pillar holding up the Parthenon. The “Freshman Wall” has smacked the 6-foot-9 freshman in the face, and he’s struggling to dismantle it.
“It happens to every freshman,” coach Frank Martin said. “Every freshman goes through that. That’s the burden of expectation, the amount of responsibility that’s on their plate. It’s the first time that they ever manage so much, and eventually they get bogged down.”
The Gamecocks (7-11, 0-5 SEC) aren’t losing because Henry isn’t playing well. They have several more problems. Ty Johnson’s injury has forced a rotation at point guard, leaving the position thin and putting Sindarius Thornwell into the position of running the offense and being the go-to scorer. All of USC’s big men, including Henry, seemingly start every game with one foul against them.
On a team with seven freshmen, the “Freshman Wall” keeps coming around. Martin sometimes deals with all of them trying to climb over it at the same time.
“I’ve never coached a single freshman that doesn’t go through it,” said Martin, who also coached All-American Michael Beasley in his only year at Kansas State. “Just seems like every week’s a different level when you got so many of them. You go through one and two and kind of ignore them and look at your seniors and say, ‘All right, let’s go.’ Every time I turn around, there’s a different freshman going through that moment. That’s why patience is so important.”
Henry’s averages have fallen to 1.8 points and 2 rebounds in SEC play. After picking up a combined 49 fouls in 13 non-conference games (3.7 per game) and fouling out five times, Henry has yet to foul out in an SEC game but has finished three games with four fouls. The whistles come quickly — against Georgia, Henry was called for a foul 31 seconds into the game.
But as Thornwell said after the discouraging loss to the Bulldogs, everyone has to keep returning to practice and trying their hardest. That’s the only way to break the losing streak.
“The only way we can regain our confidence is get back in the gym and work,” Thornwell said.
Henry, at least, has no problems with his confidence. This is another obstacle to overcome.
“I think Demetrius … how can I word this … I think his worst enemy is himself right now,” Martin said. “He’s a good player for us; he will be a good player for us again. He’s great in his whole demeanor and approach, and I think he’s allowed not having the kind of success that maybe he thinks he should be having to kind of hurt his spirit a little bit. But he’s fine. He’s going to be all right.”