EAST LANSING — Aaron Henry’s first made basket of his college career was a fitting one.
One minute after checking into Michigan State’s Tuesday loss to No. 1 Kansas, Henry caught an inbounds pass on a baseline out of bounds play, took one dribble and threw down a hard two-handed dunk.
“It was really exciting,” Henry said after Thursday’s practice. “That’s what I like to do the most, that’s what I’m good at, and it was good to be put in a position where I could do that.”
The first miss of his college career, though, may have been more revealing.
With 11 minutes left in the first half, Henry made a baseline cut, took a pass from Xavier Tillman and made a move to the basket. Standing under that hoop was Udoka Azubuike, Kansas’ 7-foot, 270-pound center. But instead of pulling up for a jumper or pivoting for a layup, Henry went right at Azubuike and attempted to dunk over him.
The 6-foot-6 Henry driving right at a 7-foot center without hesitating was an early glimpse at the freshman’s aggressive mindset.
“I’m dunking on anybody down there,” Henry said. “If you’re going to jump, good luck to you.”
Henry, though, didn’t dunk on this play against Azubuike. He had his dunk attempt blocked, and Kansas hit a 3-pointer at the other end.
Reflecting on the play two days later, Henry said he’d learned from it, and knows how to better channel that aggression next time he’s barreling down on a 7-footer.
“That probably won’t happen again,” Henry said. “I’ve just got to do a better job of evading the defender. If he’s a 7-footer or a good shot blocker, I’ve got to do better of going around him or laying that one up. But that was a good block by him and a good challenge at the rim. I look forward to that again.”
That confrontation will happen plenty more times with Henry in a Michigan State uniform.
Henry played 14 minutes on Tuesday against Kansas, the most of any Spartans reserve. He put himself in that position largely because of his college-ready frame and his versatility. He’s able to defend, block shots, shoot and pass, attributes that have earned him rave early reviews from coaches.
But what stands out the most is the ability he showed on Tuesday to slash through the paint, get to the hoop and draw fouls. The unofficial title of best dunker on the team has been passed from Miles Bridges to Henry.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo said Henry still needs to learn to pick his spots, but said his ability as a slasher fills a role the Spartans have been missing in recent years.
“Aaron’s going to be a great guy at slashing and getting to the hoop, something we haven’t had in a while,” Izzo said. “We think he’s going to be very good at it. We’re going to constantly push him, whether he can handle it I don’t know.”
When he wasn’t dunking or trying to dunk, Henry said his first official college game proved much faster than he was used to.
And heading into his second one, on Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast (6 p.m., BTN), Henry said he has both that aggressive mindset and a few tricks he picked up from his first college game.
“I know certain techniques to do, certain tricks of the trade that they were doing to me, stuff that refs couldn’t see or coaches couldn’t see, just stuff I can take into every game now and pick something up from someone I’m guarding or someone I see,” Henry said.