Patience and persistence are virtues.
If your name is Kyle Henneberry, they will also help win you a spot on the Northwestern University Wildcats basketball team.
When Henneberry, a 1992 Ferris graduate, went to the campus at Evanston, Ill., three years ago, he tried to make the squad as a walk-on.
Even though Henneberry says he was disappointed, he wasn’t surprised. The head coach hadn’t even bothered to show up for the tryouts.
This year the 22-year-old senior decided to give the Big-10 team a final shot.
“I wouldn’t have felt like I’d done everything I could have if I didn’t play basketball in college,” says Henneberry, a member of the ‘92 Saxon team that was beaten for the state title by Mercer Island.
Three years later, the Northwestern head coach again didn’t show up for the tryout.
But there were positive signs.
Henneberry had played three years of club basketball at the school - games against junior colleges and NCAA Division III schools in the Chicago area. He’d also honed his skills in off-season, open-gym games with varsity players.
People knew what he could do on the court.
So when the October tryout was over, Kyle Henneberry’s dream had come true. The 6-foot guard, now old by college standards, had won a spot on the Northwestern basketball team - and a little piece of Big-10 basketball history.
So far, his playing time has been limited. He’s played in a few games, scoring two points against the Lithuanian National team in a preseason exhibition in late November.
“I’ve never sat on the end of the bench in my life before,” Henneberry said. “I knew I’d be excited to make the team, but you’re never satisfied.
“I’d like to make a contribution on game day.”
Wildcat assistant Shawn Parrish said Henneberry’s work ethic made him attractive to the team. And, after a scholarship guard, Nick Knapp, was diagnosed with a heart ailment and couldn’t play this year, for the first time in years Northwestern needed walk-on players, Parrish said.
“He’s got a great attitude,” Parrish said of Henneberry. “And he’s really matured since his freshman year.”
Henneberry may have tried to do just too much during his tryout three years ago, Parrish said. This time around, Henneberry played solid defense, shot the ball well and showed that he’d developed into the kind of role player who “doesn’t do anything to hurt the team,” Parrish said.
All last summer, Henneberry remained focused on the tryouts. He and his brother, Craig, along with Leonard Harmon, a friend who is now the first man off the bench at Walla Walla Community College, played one-on-one at the court behind the Henneberry home.
It wasn’t just for fun. The three Ferris grads - Craig Henneberry and Harmon finished at the high school in 1995 - played each game as if a spot on a college basketball team was on the line.
“It was so intense when we played that after the games we wouldn’t talk to each other for a couple of hours,” said Harmon, who is averaging about 11 points a game at Walla Walla.
Did they play every day?
“Well, not every day,” Harmon says, laughing. “We had to talk to each other some time.”
Craig Henneberry, a freshman at the University of Colorado who just missed a walk-on spot of his own on the Buffalo team this fall, said Kyle’s making the Northwestern basketball team has been a dream for his brother.
Persistent. That’s how Craig Henneberry describes his brother.
“I’m sure people told him there was no chance, but he just kept on working,” Craig said. “That’s just how he is.”
It was only on the advice of his older brother that Craig had even tried out for the Buffalo basketball team, the younger Henneberry says now. Even though he didn’t make it, he’ll follow Kyle’s lead and try out again next year.
In the Henneberry family, dreams do come true.
Wayne Gilman, Henneberry’s coach at Ferris, said he’d heard reports that Henneberry had made the Northwestern basketball team all fall but nothing concrete. It wasn’t until an article in USA Today about Knapp, which included a picture with Henneberry in the background, that Gilman knew for certain.
Gilman says he always thought that Henneberry would have been a good fit in a smaller school. But to go Big-10 - it wasn’t a shocker, but it certainly came as a surprise.
It came as a surprise to Henneberry’s friends at Northwestern, too. They’d planned to enjoy their final year of college together. Take it easy, Henneberry says. Maybe go to a few basketball games.
“I get a lot of grief from all my senior friends because I don’t have as much time to hang out with them as I did before,” said Henneberry, a dean’s list scholar who hopes to take his biomedical engineering degree into medical school next year.
“But they’re all excited for me.”
Henneberry is pretty pumped himself. In the new year, he’ll be going to arenas at Michigan, Purdue and Indiana.
The “pinch-me” experience of reality has yet to sink in.
He imagines a post-game scenario against the Hoosiers. Bobby Knight will be standing across the gym, the familiar scowl on his face. His red sweater is rumpled, and he looks 1,000 years old.
Henneberry strides over to him to shake the coaching legend’s hand.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell him afterward, ‘Good game,”’ Henneberry says. “And ‘Better luck next time.”’
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