Senior point guard Pierria Henry would gladly trade the Charlotte 49ers’ career steals record he is about to break for something he thinks is more significant.
“I can’t leave with only that,” Henry said of the steals mark, which he will likely claim Thursday when the 49ers (2-3, 8-9) play a Conference USA game at Alabama-Birmingham (8-10, 4-1). “I need more and want more. Individual records don’t mean much without a championship.”
Henry has 264 steals, which is tied with Eddie Basden, who set the record from 2002 to 2005. There is a key difference between Basden and Henry, however: Basden did his work on 49ers teams that played in the NCAA tournament three times and shared the Conference USA regular-season title once. Henry’s postseason resume includes a single one-and-done trip to the National Invitation Tournament two years ago.
That’s a source of frustration to Henry, who will soon go down as one of the top all-around players in Charlotte history.
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“I want a ring,” he said. “I want a banner to hang from the ceiling. It’s not over yet. There’s still a lot of fight left in this dog. But I’ve got to be patient.”
Although Henry will leave with Charlotte’s steals record, his impact goes far beyond that. He is not a conventional point guard, often struggling with ill-timed turnovers and having limitations as a shooter. But he has 489 career assists – fourth on Charlotte’s list – and should break Keith Williams’ record of 515. He scored his 1,000th-career point recently. At 6-foot-5, he averages 5.7 rebounds, which is tied for 17th in C-USA. He has cracked Charlotte’s career top 15 in that department, as well, with 625. He also is closing in on DeMarco Johnson’s school record of 3,599 minutes played (Henry has 3,500).
“Henry is one of these guys where you look at the stat sheet and that sometimes shows his effect on games, but sometimes not,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III after the Hoyas beat the 49ers 81-78 in December. “His ability to understand when he needs to make plays – and that’s not always scoring for him – shows over and over. He finds the right man when he gets in the lane and he’s pivoting. The decisions he makes are at a high level.”
But it is Henry’s tenacity, physicality and quickness on defense that sets him apart.
“I’m somebody that sits down and studies and evaluates,” Henry said. “But then I’ve got to trust in my instincts and how my coaches have prepared me. When it gets to game speed, I see blood and I’m all in.”
Said 49ers interim coach Ryan Odom: “Pierria is the start and the end of our defense a lot of times. He’ll pressure the ball and force mistakes. Then he’ll go get the rebound. He’s progressed so much over his career. He doesn’t have to spend so much energy now; he’s a lot smarter. He knows when to pick his spots and get more aggressive within the guts of the game.”
With the steals record at hand and the assists mark in sight, Henry hopes the 49ers can straighten out their season before it’s too late.
“It means a lot, to know I put a mark on the Charlotte 49ers and a school that gave me a chance to better myself, to become the kind of man I believe I’ll be. (Setting the records) is one way of showing my appreciation.”