Author: Charlie Goldsmith (Medill ’21)
Myke Henry’s spot is in the NBA is essentially fungible, but all you need is a foot in the door. The Memphis Grizzlies forward has been around the world playing basketball, but after three years overseas he’s finally established himself as a three-and-D prospect who’s separated himself from dozens of prospects built out of the same mold.
“You got to believe in yourself before anybody else will believe in you,” Henry said. “Then, once you realize you can play, other people start realizing you can play. Then your belief will always will be there with you.”
Henry, a 6-foot-6 forward from Chicago, clung to the fact he could score and defend. For a while, there were coaches who made him doubt those abilities, so he spent the summer after college playing at the highest level he could– amateur international basketball. Slowly but surely, things changed and he made his way up the ranks.
Henry wasn’t approached by any NBA team or invited to play in the NBA Summer League coming out of college at DePaul, so he and three of his friends from Chicago made a Cinderella run in the FIBA 3×3 Tournament instead. Henry led the team in scoring in games played in Abu Dhabi and China, and the U.S. team medaled for the first time in the history of the tournament. After his stint over the 2016 summer in Asia, Henry signed with the D-League Oklahoma City Blue.
Through all this time off the radar, there was just a small corner of people who thought of Henry as an NBA prospect. There are 30 NBA teams looking for players of Henry’s make, but athletic defenders who can stroke the three are the hardest prospects to find. Any good college player can shoot the lights out in an empty gym, and any athletic looking prospect can resemble OG Anunoby on the right day. Henry wasn’t sure that he did anything that could stand out until he found assurance from an old teammate.
It came from did Billy Garrett Jr., a former star at DePaul which hadn’t produced an NBA player since Wilson Chandler was drafted by the Knicks in the first round of 2007. Garrett said he helped keep Henry on track as the two of them worked out in the offseason.
“There’s a mentality we’ve developed being from Chicago and being counted out,” Garrett said. “We share a belief in ourselves. He’s a very confident guy who believes in his work and he believed that if he just got an opportunity he would make the most of it.”
Henry next signed with Rayos de Hermosillo, who plays in the Circuito de Baloncesto de la Costa del Pacífico, a basketball league in Mexico, but not the top one. There, he could lead the team’s offense and be coached by a former DePaul assistant, Gene Cross. This fall, Henry returned to the Oklahoma City Blue and played twice as much as he did the year before. Henry averaged 15.7 points per game, even more than he did at DePaul, and found his footing as a perimeter threat.
Garrett joined him in the G League this season, and he averages 8.8 points and 2.0 assists per game for the Westchester Knicks. The friends didn’t cross paths until the G League Showcase, a four-day event in Mississauga, Ont. where all 26 G League teams play at the same venue. NBA executives attend and over 300 players try to capture their attention.
Henry said he didn’t come into the showcase with high aspirations.
“I went in there with the mindset of getting two wins for my team,” he said. “That’s all we went in there to do.”
Henry scored 21 points in Oklahoma City’s 110-108 victory over Fort Wayne in their last day at the showcase.
That’s where Memphis found him.
The following morning started with a meeting with Grizzlies’ GM Chris Wallace. Having liked what Henry showed in Mississauga, Wallace created a roster space and routed him directly to Memphis. Memphis interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the team needed the spark Henry brought.
“Myke has been a guy who has worked, he’s grinded and he’s gotten an opportunity,” Bickerstaff said. “I think he kind of shook all of the cobwebs off, but when his number is called he’s got a belief in trusting his training.”
The Grizzlies signed Henry to a two-way contract, so they had the ability to send him back-and-forth from the G League. He said that’s what made him quickly learn about the demands of NBA practices and the speed of the game. Playing with Marc Gasol helped, he said.
In his second game with the team, Henry dunked over Joel Embiid and scored 12 second half points in an upset over the 76ers. He didn’t take long to adjust, finishing the season averaging 5.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 19 minutes per game.
Wallace turned out to be right by identifying Henry as a three-and-D player. More than 50 percent of his shots came from beyond the arc, indicating that Henry is confident from distance. The rookie shot 32.8 percent from three, and on a team with little incentive to win, he accumulated a positive defensive box plus/minus. Like his spacing provided value on offense, Henry was changing the game when he was on the defensive end as well. Memphis was better on both sides of the ball when he was on the floor, even though it didn’t translate into gaudy box score numbers.
“He seems comfortable there because that Memphis Grizzlies’ grit that they played with under [former head coach] Dave Joerger over the years, he fits perfectly with that,” Garrett said. “He’s a guy who really started from ground zero and has worked his way in the NBA just through hard work.”
Henry couldn’t ask for a better situation to set up his next opportunity. Small forward Tyreke Evans is a free agent, and Memphis could certainly use Henry’s combination of shooting and defense going forward. Bickerstaff said it didn’t take long for him to realize Henry can have a future with this team as a 3-D player.
“The hardest art in the NBA is being a consistent threat where every single night you know and your coach knows and your teammates know what you’re going to give them,” Bickerstaff said after Henry’s scoreless game in Memphis’s 108-85 loss to the Spurs. “There’s no doubt in our mind that we think we’ve found a piece [in Henry].”
In the meantime, Henry said he’s savoring the structure and stability and plane flights to Los Angeles instead of Tijuana, Guasave or Durango. Soon, he could be entrenched in an NBA rotation or back in the G League or even another foreign country. But wherever he goes, Henry said he’s going to keep grinding, no matter how many points he scores.
“That’s just what I do,” he said. “I really don’t care what the stats say.”