CHD’s Jon Teitel had an opportunity to sit down with Kirkland, Washington native and Pennsylvania Freshman Darien Nelson-Henry. Henry surprised many last season by committing to Penn instead of bigger programs that had offered him a scholarship, namely Gonzaga and Washington State. Nelson-Henry notched a career high against Lehigh last night, scoring six points in eight minutes of play.
JT: You committed to Penn last year despite receiving an offer from Gonzaga: what was the main factor in turning down a program that has made the NCAA tourney in each of Coach Mark Few’s 13 seasons at the helm?
DNH: The main reasons were the academics and the environment: none of the West Coast schools that recruited me had Penn’s combination of academics and athletics. Coach Jerome Allen is also one of the big reasons. It was an opportunity I could not turn down.
As a senior at Lake Washington High School you averaged a double-double, were named Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association’s 3A Player of the Year, and won the King County championship: how were you able to balance your individual success with your team’s success?
I just tried to let my success fuel our team. If I was open I would try to score, and if I got triple-teamed then I would just pass the ball to whoever was open. It is not about points for me: it is about getting the win.
As a 6’10”, 265-pound center you will become the biggest guy on the Penn team from day one. Do you think your size gives you a bigger advantage on the offensive end or defensive end?
Not having played against this type of competition before, I think it will be more of an advantage on the defensive end: defense is more instinctive. My size can definitely help me get rebounds on defense, so I will just let my offense find itself.
There have been many great guards to come out of Washington recently (including first round draft pick Tony Wroten and current Gonzaga starting guard Gary Bell, Jr.). Did you play against a lot of other good frontcourt players in high school or were most of your opponents led by good backcourt players?
There are just so many guards in the Washington area that have gone on to division one programs. I have played against my fair share of good guards, which has helped me prepare for the college game.
You have played against a lot of the top-ranked big men around the country: which of them impressed you the most?
I played against UCLA center Josh Smith (who is from Seattle, so I played against him since sixth grade) and NBA lottery pick Andre Drummond.
You said that Coach Allen reminds you of your high school coaches, how so?
One of my high school coaches was a great guy off the court who we could joke around with, but once it was game time he was 100% serious, and I liked that. I like having a personal relationship with my coach. I know that if I break his trust I will get punished, not because he is mean but because he wants to teach me a lesson and make me a better player.
Larry Loughery is the lone senior on the Penn roster, do you think that the lack of veteran leadership offers you the opportunity to get a lot of playing time as a freshman?
I hope so. We have a lot of JRs on the team like Fran Dougherty/Miles Cartwright who are leaders regardless of their level of experience. We are just going to be cycling guys in and out until we find our best lineup.
Many of your high school teammates also played alongside you in junior high, how does it feel to be leaving the comfort and security of your long-time friends and moving across the country to play with a brand-new group of teammates?
It is weird, but even before I committed I was talking to my fellow freshman (Tony Hicks/Julian Harrell/Jamal Lewis) and have become best friends with them. Ultimately a basketball team is like a family, so we just have to get our chemistry down.
One teammate you will not be able to rely on is 2012 Ivy League Player of the Year Zack Rosen (one of the best point guards Penn has ever had). How crucial is it for you to have a great PG who can get the ball to you in the post?
It is really important because in college you cannot just run a pick-and-roll every time. If our PG can do the things Zack did by getting to the hole and finding the open man, then it will be huge for everyone on our team.
Harvard went 26-5 last year: do you think your team is built to win right now or do you think Harvard will be able to defend its conference title from last season?
We are going to have a hard time beating Harvard based on the success they had last year, but it is not impossible. If we do what Coach Allen tells us to do, I have no doubt that we have the talent/skills to beat anyone in the Ivy League. It is up to us to prove what we can do.