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Column: Colony High’s Jaden Henley elevating his game and status

Colony High's Jaden Henley goes up for shot against Rolling Hills Prep's Kenny Manzi.
(Craig Weston)

If Michael Jordan could become the world’s best basketball player after being placed on the junior varsity team in high school, there has to be a future for others even if some parents consider it a slap in the face not to make varsity as a freshman or sophomore.

The latest JV success story belongs to 6-foot-7 Jaden Henley of Ontario Colony High. He recently committed to Minnesota after playing for the junior varsity in 2020.

“I don’t know if I was OK with it, but it motivated me more,” Henley said of playing junior varsity. “My parents told me the same thing. They said if you want it, you have to get it.”

Henley, 17, had moved from Corona to Ontario as a sophomore and with Colony’s varsity loaded with top players, coach Jerry De Fabiis decided the best path for Henley’s development would be with the JV team. It turned out to be a fun season for Henley, who ended up growing from 6-3 to 6-7, which helped change his game. By last spring, Henley was comfortable playing on varsity even though few knew of him.

“I felt it clicked and I got rolling,” he said.

The key to his transition was adjusting to his added size and getting rid of any aches and pains from his growth spurt.

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“It took a lot getting used to,” he said. “My body was changing. I felt myself growing. Shots became a lot easier going inside and shooting over people. At first I had to get used to my legs. It just came after lifting, working on my legs, working on my mobility. I want to be a big guard who can move.”

Said De Fabiis: “Every time I look at him, I think he’s growing.”

This season, Henley has become a revelation. He has used his height to attack in the key but also shown the ability to make threes. He plays stellar defense and it’s clear Minnesota might have come away with a steal. He’s averaging 17.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals for 13-1 Colony.

Jaden Henley of Colony is headed to Minnesota.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Henley certainly knows what he’s facing by going to a college in a state where the temperature can be no higher than his No. 10 jersey.

“It gets pretty cold,” he said of his official visit to Minnesota. “When I was there, it got to 12 degrees.”

The Gophers’ coaching staff did not hide anything.

“I’ve never seen snow like that,” he said.

Henley said he “likes the cold personally.” More importantly, he said he “loved” everything he saw.

“I loved the energy, the people, the coaching staff,” he said.

As Henley climbs the higher levels in basketball, he’ll become the latest example of someone who trusted the process, worked hard and was rewarded. Patience is required, along with a commitment that there’s value in playing on a junior varsity team, including player development.

“I trust myself even more because I kept working,” he said. “Last year was my first time on varsity and people didn’t look at me as anything much. I’ve always been overlooked but trusted myself. As long as you trust yourself and your abilities, the right person will find you.”


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