Opinion from OU Senior Associate Athletics Director for Communications Kenny Mossman.
NORMAN, Okla. -- New Oklahoma assistant basketball coach Steve Henson was a great player at Kansas State. There wasn't much he couldn't do, but the two things that probably stuck out the most were his competitiveness and accuracy at the free throw line.
Both merit a closer look, but not before a quick history lesson...
One mention of the 1988 basketball season and everyone around Oklahoma drifts back to that night when the Sooners played Kansas for the national championship in the 50th NCAA title game at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
What is often forgotten is what the rest of the Big Eight Conference looked like that season. Five of its players were taken in the first round of the NBA Draft - Harvey Grant of Oklahoma, Danny Manning of Kansas, Mitch Richmond of Kansas State, Derrick Chievous of Missouri and Jeff Grayer of Iowa State.
And not only did Oklahoma and Kansas comprise half of the Final Four, but Kansas State also advanced to the Elite Eight. Five, or 63%, of the teams in the conference won at least 20 games. The Big 12 has never matched that percentage.
Henson's Kansas State team went 25-9. One of those 25 victories came on Feb. 24 of that year at Ames, Iowa. The Wildcats won a surprisingly decisive 83-66 victory and Henson, in ironic fashion, accounted for the final, 17-point advantage.
That's because Henson, who led the nation with a free throw percentage of 92.5%, made all 17, yes 17, of his attempts in that game. Nine came on Iowa State technical fouls including seven on one trip to the line after several Cyclones left the bench area.
Now Hilton Coliseum has long had a reputation as one of the best environments in college basketball and it was downright hostile on that February night in '88. Especially after the Cyclones were T'd up.
The zaniness that broke out when Henson stepped to the stripe numbed all the senses. Pompons, pennants, jackets and small children were all being waved in an attempt to distract the K-State point guard.
The first of his seven makes in a row quieted very few. The second, a few more. The third was spirit-breaking. By the time Henson got to No. 5, the now-subdued crowd resigned itself to the inevitable and some of the fans sat back down.
That was the poise and competitiveness of Steve Henson.
In March of that year, Kansas State suffered the heart-breaker of heart-breakers in losing the regional final to rival Kansas just two days after eliminating No. 1 national seed Purdue. The Wildcats had won two of three previous meetings against KU that season, including one in Lawrence that halted the Jayhawks' 55-game home-court winning streak.
The loss at Pontiac's Silverdome was a gut shot, but the NCAA's post-game procedures left little allowance for emotion. The interview room beckoned shortly after the game and Henson was expected on a golf cart for the long ride to the media session.
It was then that Steve proved that you can't interview what you can't find. He was MIA.
School officials looked for him everywhere. The golf carts were sent away without him, but the search persisted. Several minutes later he was located in an auxiliary locker room, stuffed under a sink, his head draped with a towel.
Anyone who works in college sports long enough will see the extremes of elation and dejection. On the subject of the latter, I've never seen anything rival the way Henson looked that day. Totally spent and denied a dream, a player who rarely went to the bench had nothing left. Physically and emotionally, he had left it all inside that sweat-soaked uniform.
Now he's an assistant coach at Oklahoma. I like what he brings to the table.