Andre Henry remembers visiting three high schools with his parents as an eighth-grader, trying to decide where he wanted to play basketball. Todd Wolfson, who had just completed his first season as head coach at La Canada St. Francis, made his pitch.
“He said he wanted to make this a special program and needed my help to do it,” Henry recalled. “He believed we could do it with the right group of guys. I wanted to be that person who put St. Francis on the map.”
Henry more than lived up to the deal. He led St. Francis (30-8) to the Southern California Regional Division II championship. The crowning moment was supposed to happen on Saturday night in Sacramento by playing for a state championship at Golden 1 Center. Then the game was canceled because of the spreading coronavirus.
Wolfson gave the news to Henry and his teammates Thursday morning in the team room. Wolfson broke into tears, then the players.
“Once he started, it was like a trickle effect,” Henry said. “Everybody else couldn’t hold it.”
St. Francis players weren’t playing for a mere trophy — they were playing for each other. It’s why everyone was so upset the way the season ended.
“One thing really hurt most,” Henry said.”I’m fortunate to play at the next level. A lot of these seniors played their last game. That was tough knowing they won’t be able to play organized basketball again.”
How someone faces adversity can provide inspiration to others, and Henry made others feel stronger.
He’s a 6-foot-3 guard who signed with UC Irvine. He averaged 24.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He should be on a poster that says, “Trust the process.”
“It means to always follow the people who believe in you the most,” he said. “This coaching staff believed in me from the beginning. They told me there would be ups and downs but gave me the keys to the car. I trusted where we wanted to get and now we’re in this position.”
Henry has been one of the best players from the Mission League for several years. He was a travel ball teammate of McDonald’s All-American Ziaire Williams of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon. His versatility, toughness, ability to drive or hit an outside shot made him one of the best players in the Southland. He helped St. Francis come back from a devastating 61-39 defeat to Santa Clarita Christian in the Southern Section 2AA final.
“Just to be able to play in a state championship game is a dream come true,” he said before the CIF announced the tournament had been canceled. “We’re going to be in an NBA arena, which every player dreams of. The last time we were in a championship game it didn’t end well. We’re going to try to make this memory last forever.”
Wolfson, who won a state title coaching West Hills Chaminade in 2014, said Henry ranks among the best players he has coached on and off the court.
“When he was a freshman, we had to clean up after serving the homeless at a soup kitchen,” Wolfson said. “He made sure the place was spotless. He was the last to finish cleaning. That’s Andre.”
Said Williams, “Andre is like my brother. He’s a great player but even better person. He’s a team-first guy. He’s going to do great things at Irvine.”
Henry has many days of playing basketball ahead, and all those touched by his humbleness and leadership will be rooting for him long after this week of turmoil and uncertainty passes in our minds.
“It’s really painful because of all the hard work we did proving everyone wrong and not being able to finish the way we wanted to,” he said. “I understood once the NBA shut down, this was coming too. It didn’t make it easier.”
Life is about dealing with the ups and downs and never giving up.
“I guess we have to deal with the grief and move on,” Henry said.
Words of wisdom from a 17 year old.