ONTARIO — The persisting knee and ankle issues hurt his body, but they never destroyed Xavier Henry’s spirit. The sporadic playing time diminished his role, but it never compromised his effort. His perception soon morphed from a high-prized lottery pick to a bust, but Henry never diminished his self-worth.
What kept Henry going, working, pushing and hoping involved none other than his Christian faith. So when he posted a career-high 29 points in the Lakers’ 104-95 preseason win Saturday over the Golden State Warriors at Citizens Business Bank Arena, Henry held nothing back in attributing his Christian faith in helping him reach this position.
“Every day I lean on God. I pray a lot just so I know he’s with me,” said Henry, who signed a one-year deal with a partially guaranteed contract as an training camp roster invitee. “I always know. I don’t have to be nervous. Just pray to have confidence and play hard for the glory of him. Not anybody else. I’m not doing this for anybody. I’m doing this for my family and for God.”
Regardless of anyone’s religious beliefs, it’s clear Henry’s mindset involves more than saying a prayer. Ok, so Henry conceded he was “definitely surprised” he made a prayer in the form of a 44-foot half-court shot to end the first half. But Henry’s success went beyond throwing up a half-court heave that he described as “perfect” despite not initially catching the ball right away.
His success involves staying resilient through tough times. There were plenty.
The Memphis Grizzlies drafted him 12th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft with the organization raving about his basketball IQ, defensive hustle and perimeter shooting after earning All Big-12 Honorable Mention honors in his lone season with the Kansas Jayhawks. But Henry suffered a right knee injury that kept him out for all but 38 games. He was then traded to the New Orleans the next season where he became sidelined for 37 games because of torn ligaments in his right ankle.
Last season, Henry missed 32 games mainly because the Hornets coaching staff saw him struggling with establishing any niche. Meanwhile, Henry’s career averages of 4.5 points on 40.3 percent shooting through three seasons suggested he had little value.
“The injuries, at first, was a struggle for me. Then when you move around a little bit, you try to get your feet wet and get it under you,” Henry said. “I never had that timing or kind of opportunity really to show what I can do.”
Despite all that, Henry said he’d never stop in at least providing “effort.”
“It makes a big difference,” he said. “As long as I know I’m competing and playing hard, that’s all I can give. I can only give 100 percent of my effort. Even if I don’t get to play a lot or don’t know when I’m coming in, I want to bring the energy. I want to bring the effort and the juice for guys that might be tired at the time. I’m coming in fresh. So I need to bring the juice for those guys.”
Henry provided plenty of juice to help the Lakers’ snap their 10-game losing streak in the preseason.
He threw an inbounds pass to Elias Harris for a powerful dunk. Henry drove to the basket with authority. He hustled for loose balls and on defense. Basically, Henry provided everything you’d want for a player hoping to make the roster.
“He’s a good player and is being aggressive all summer time and it just showed tonight,” Lakers forward Nick Young said. “You have to stay aggressive. You never know when your moment is going to come. His moment came tonight.”
Will that prove enough to land a spot on the Lakers?
“I really have no idea. No one has told me if they’re leaning one way or the other,” Henry said. “But I have the confidence in myself if I go out and play my game, I’ll keep my faith. I know at the end, whatever’s supposed to happen will happen. So if I don’t make it, this is wasn’t what was supposed to be. As long as I play hard, it will be all right.”
Still, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni understandably doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. He praised Henry’s confidence and shooting performance, but not without noting his inconsistency during training camp.
“He has to understand not to drive every time and take bad shots,” D’Antoni said. “He got out of control a couple times. He has to have a little bit of it as he keeps playing more of a feel for the game. But he’s young and that’ll come. He’s an NBA player and he’s had a great camp. We expect him to keep improving.”
Henry conceded the same, describing how he made a “couple of bonehead plays” and that he needs to improve his court awareness when he’s driving to the basket.
But he has faith he’ll improve in those areas and solidify himself as a hard-working defender and dangerous scorer by showing the same determination stemmed from his faith that enabled him to thrive at least for one night. Should that pan out, there’s no question Lakers fans will quickly pronounce Henry’s name correctly (pronounced ZAH-vee-ay), a name stemmed from his native Belgium.
“With me believing in God and always staying faithful, I always knew it would come back around for me as long as I worked hard,” Henry said. “I found a team that I love to play with, the guys are unselfish and the coaching staff believes in me. When you have those things, anything can happen.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org