In late summer of 1981, Barbara Adkins enrolled for her freshman year at Kansas University. Adkins had been recruited out of an Oklahoma City high school to play basketball for the Jayhawks.
Soon thereafter, Carl Henry, who had already enrolled for his junior year at Oklahoma City University, abruptly left that school, informing his roommate he was transferring to KU.
Why had Henry, a basketball standout for two seasons with the Stars, pulled up stakes? Was it because OCU, now in the NAIA but then an NCAA Division I school, had changed coaches?
At the time, Henry used that excuse, saying he had talked to the new coach and learned of his plans to slow the ball down. Yet there was a flaw in Henry’s reasoning. Kansas coach Ted Owens had never been accused of being a run-and-shoot proponent.
Later, I asked Henry if Adkins had been the real reason he had transferred to Kansas.
“Well,” he answered with a smile, “she’s a pretty big reason.”
Henry would pay a stiff price for following his heart. The new OCU coach was so miffed about his best player’s departure that he refused to grant him a release, meaning Henry couldn’t receive any KU scholarship money during the 1981-82 season while sitting out under NCAA transfer rules.
So there Henry was on Mount Oread unable to play basketball and hurting for money when he could have been playing on full scholarship in his hometown.
Yeah, Adkins was a pretty big reason, all right. But at least Henry had her to cheer him up and, later, he was able to obtain a Pell grant to help with his tuition.
It’s easy to understand why that OCU coach was ticked. Henry was the team centerpiece, averaging 19.0 points and 11.7 rebounds during his sophomore year. And, as expected, OCU’s loss became KU’s gain.
Henry earned second-team All-Big Eight honors as a junior, leading the Jayhawks in scoring at 17.4 ppg. Then as a senior he averaged 16.8 ppg. and was a first-team all-league selection.
It didn’t take long for Kansas fans to realize Henry was a natural forward trapped in a guard’s body. He was listed at 6-foot-4, yet was as good around the basket as any KU player I’ve ever seen. Blessed with an uncanny knack for retrieving loose balls and earning stick-backs, Henry was the prototype “garbage man.”
If he had been four or five inches taller, Henry would have enjoyed a lengthy NBA career. But at 6-4 you have to be able to shoot from distance to be successful in the pros, and Henry’s maximum range was about 15 feet.
What about Adkins? Four inches shorter than Henry, she wasn’t quite as talented as her boyfriend, who would become her husband. Still, she had a productive four-year career with the Jayhawks by averaging 8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds a game.
Her sister Vickie, however, was one of the best basketball players in Kansas history. Vickie Adkins, a 6-1 forward, became a three-time All-Big Eight selection.
Vickie still ranks No. 4 on KU’s career scoring chart.
Clearly, Carl Henry Jr. and Xavier Henry, sons and nephews of former Jayhawks, owe a lot to genetics.