Henry developing for UF women's basketball

Florida junior center Aneika Henry, right, comes into the game against Alabama as freshman Ebonie Crawford exits.

Brad McClenny/Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 12:02 a.m.

Aneika Henry was a little reluctant to give in to peer pressure in high school. The Gators are certainly glad she did.

Henry, Florida's 6-foot-3 starting center, didn't begin playing basketball (or any other organized sport) until she was a ninth-grader at Coral Gables Senior High.

Henry, who lived in Jamaica until the age of 11, had spent her youth playing soccer and cricket on the Caribbean island. She had never even touched a basketball, let alone watched a game.

It took a lot of convincing to get Henry on the hardwood.

Coaches and players on Coral Gables Senior girls basketball team began recruiting Henry to the team because of her height. At first, Henry was unsure about it.

"I didn't want to play at the time," said Henry, who will lead the Gators into today's 3 p.m. game at Arkansas. "I didn't know anything about basketball. I didn't play. I didn't watch it. So I was like, ‘No.’ Every time (the coaches) would come to me I'd say, ‘No.’ The girls would come to me at lunch and say, ‘Please come watch us. Please come watch us.’ I didn't think that was my kind of sport."

Finally Coral Gables coach Mark Wynn came and personally took Henry out of class and tried to persuade her into joining the team. Finally, she relented. Henry attended a game and felt like it was a sport she would be willing to try.

"When I first watched the team play, it looked fun," she said. "Then I started feeling it. If I didn't feel it, I wouldn't have started playing. I saw how fun the game was."

But when you've never played basketball, there are a lot of rules to remember. Like the fact that you have to dribble the ball.

Henry said her most embarrassing moment came when she got the ball at the foul line and began running toward the basket without dribbling. She was called for traveling. That's when the team came up with a new strategy.

"They'd just throw the ball up and I'd just catch it and put it up there," Henry said. "I never ever dribbled a ball until I started practicing more."

Henry's maturation was rapid. She went on to play at Seminole Community College where she totaled 442 points, 432 rebounds and 173 blocked shots in two seasons. She was recruited to Florida by former coach Carolyn Peck and stayed on to play for current coach Amanda Butler.

"Aneika's development has been very rapid," Butler said. "Aneika was a kid that started playing basketball later in life, but she's incredibly gifted from a physical standpoint and she's very bright. She wants to learn and get better."

Henry has had an up-and-down season, but has become more of a factor of late. In Florida's 80-65 win over Alabama on Jan. 13, Henry scored 14 points in 23 minutes on 7-of-11 shooting. Henry also leads the Gators in blocked shots with an average of 2.9 per game.

"With her size and athleticism, she can position herself to do things where there's not going to be a defender on most nights than can do anything about it," Butler said. "She's realizing how much space she can cover. But as she learns the basics of pass and catch and footwork, I think we will continue to see strides in Aneika's game.

"We've seen spurts of that here and there, of her becoming a dominant low-block player. I don't think Aneika arrived here thinking that is what she was, but I think she's starting to realize that."

Henry is also unique in that she is capable of dunking. Henry said she had the chance to during Florida's win over Florida A&M on Jan. 2, but instead laid it in.

"I'm not going to say I didn't have the chance," she said.

Teammate and roommate Marshae Dotson was hoping to see Henry slam it down. When asked what Henry needs to work on the most, Dotson smiled and said, "Dunking."

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