Pierre Henderson-Niles Facing Last Chance to Be Memphis' Big Man on Campus

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer ISeptember 8, 2009

Talent. Dedication. Hard work.

These are some of the key ingredients in the soup of life; it only makes sense that the attributes would be crucial to the success of a young basketball star signing a scholarship at a Division I basketball powerhouse.

Jartavious Pierre Henderson-Niles was three-for-three coming out of high school. As an athletic big man—6’8” tall, 265 chiseled pounds, with soft hands, nimble footwork, and a jumper out to 18 feet—he certainly had the talent.

As a junior at Ridgeway High School in Memphis, TN, he was the AAA state tournament MVP as his 34-5 Roadrunners took home all the marbles. Pierre averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per contest on the year and went for 16 and 12 in the victorious title tilt.

He then helped The Patterson School to a 34-3 mark and a No. 3 national ranking from Scout.com during his senior campaign.

He was ranked as high as the 37th best recruit in the country (by YouthPrepStars.com) as a senior.

His years of dedication and hard work showed in his unusually polished all-around game. Here’s what Jerry Meyer of Rivals had to say about Henderson-Niles in his May 2, 2005 scouting report:

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“Niles has a body for both the NBA and the NFL. A rock down low, Niles loves to spin to his right shoulder when his back is to the basket. Also shoots a nice turnaround jumper to that shoulder. Also handles the ball well and can step out and hit the three. Teases as a small forward, but is best suited as a skilled power forward. Would have trouble defending a small forward on the perimeter.”

In an October 2006 interview, then-Memphis head coach John Calipari gushed over his prized freshman big man.

“I think Pierre Niles could be the 'X' Factor for us because he brings something unique,” Coach Cal said at the time. "He’s huge and he can make nine straight free throws. He’s got great hands and feet.”

Henderson-Niles started running into problems when he injured a knee that summer and was forced to take time off recuperating from surgery.

He rediscovered a long-lost love: eating.

“It’s hard not eating certain foods. I’m so used to fast food and my grandma’s cooking,” Pierre admitted. “It’s hard to diet every day, but I’m trying.”

His weight ballooned to upwards of 300 pounds. He knocked some of that weight off, but with little frontline depth, when junior Joey Dorsey ran into foul troubles, Henderson-Niles was thrust into games and expected to perform.

It was not a pretty combination.

Pierre looked sluggish and lost when he was on the floor. Tiger fans got to the point where they couldn’t stand seeing him at the scorer’s table.

He ended his freshman campaign with averages of 7.4 minutes, 1.6 points, and 2.2 rebounds per contest, while shooting a dismal .421 from the field and .438 from the line in 25 games (out of 37).

He was instructed to go home and get into better shape. The ultimate goal was for him to play weighing in at 270.

Big Daddy P, as a group of Tiger fans began calling him affectionately, skied up to 330 pounds over the summer, finally reporting in September at “only” 306.

Calipari could not hide his feelings.

“Obviously, at our pace, he’s not gonna be able to stay in the game a long time,” said a clearly disappointed Calipari. “At some point, Pierre has got to want to get his body right.”

BDP appeared in just 26 of 40 games that season, and his minutes per night plummeted to 3.8. His point (0.7) and rebound (0.8) averages were abysmal; he was barely contributing to the team.

However, his willingness to mix it up in the paint never waned. When the senior Dorsey was in the midst of a long string of lackluster performances, Calipari had this to say about his reserve power forward:

“How about Pierre Niles? He’s just got to get his body right and I’ll play him. But he’s got to get his body right. He went in and looked at me and said, ‘If (Joey Dorsey) doesn’t want to get balls, coach, I’ll go in and get balls.’”

Calipari took the precaution of making Pierre sign an incentive-laden contract for playing time over the following summer. If the big junior-to-be couldn’t get down to 280, he would not play basketball.

Rumors placed Big Daddy in the 345-350 range over the summer.

When he reported at about 292, Calipari relented and allowed Pierre to play, anyway. Henderson-Niles saw action in 36 of 37 games, and his playing time pitched dramatically forward to a respectable 12.6 minutes per game. He ended up averaging 2.4 PPG and 3.6 RPG with a .480 field goal percentage.

Calipari’s move to Kentucky might have been the best thing to ever happen to Pierre Henderson-Niles. The relationship between the two was strained, at best, largely due to Pierre’s weight issues; otherwise, Cal loved him dearly.

“This kid’s a great kid. I’m gonna give him three, four, five chances because he’s a great kid,” Cal said in a 2008 interview. “He’s a nice kid—he’s not a (knucklehead)—so he’s getting more chances than the normal guy.”

It once appeared that he was out of chances to contribute to the Tiger program, though. An insane recruiting class was coming in, and with Calipari’s fast-moving, free-flowing DDM offensive system, the probability was that BDP was going to average fewer than five minutes per contest again as a senior.

Calipari-to-Kentucky meant new life for Pierre.

His weight has been pretty much under control, and he is currently 280 pounds. He’s still losing weight, and he could challenge the 270-pound mark by the time this season starts.

He was at 327 in April.

It’s right on time for new head coach Josh Pastner too, because two big men that the team was going to rely on—6’10” veteran Shawn Taggart and 6’8” five-star recruit Latavious Williams—both opted to play professional ball overseas, Taggart in Europe and Williams in China.

So that leaves BDP, incoming Joey Dorsey-clone Will Coleman (6’9”, 270), and Angel Garcia, a 6’11”, 250-pound freshman who sat out last year with injury and eligibility issues, manning the post for Memphis.

As a senior, Henderson-Niles will be looked upon to provide leadership, steady play, and toughness to a Tiger team that is thin, literally and figuratively.

Pierre is once again the “X-Factor” for the University of Memphis basketball program. In some ways, he has come full circle. It’s a fresh start for a young man in need of one.

At one point last season, when Niles was weighing in the 300-305 range, Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets watched Tiger practices and ran hurriedly up to Coach Cal to find out the name of No. 4.

Calipari told him it was Pierre Henderson-Niles, a player who was a great kid but too heavy to play much. He lamented that if only the big guy could lose some weight, the team might be able to do something with him.

CP3 replied that he would gladly have Pierre on the Hornets running pick-and-rolls as is.

So the talent and footwork are still there.

He has shown his dedication by completing an often maddening journey to get himself into tip-top shape.

He states that he’s worked hard on his game, and even though he’s stronger now, his quickness and hops are back.

He looks like shredded steel, thanks to the hard work with strength and conditioning coach Richard Hogans.

“I never even felt this good when I was in high school,” Pierre said in a recent on-air interview. “This is the best shape I’ve ever been in.”

So in addition to being talented, dedicated, and hard-working, it’s good for a prospect to be in the right place at the right time. PHN has fit that description twice in his Division I career.

It’s all up to him to take full advantage of this last chance to shine.