T.J. Henry was still a ways from donning a Rockridge uniform when the Rockets won their last boys' basketball regional championship in 2003.
However, the senior guard is a very active link between those back-to-back regional winners of the early 2000s and this year's Rocket crew, fresh from celebrating the program's 11th postseason championship.
His father, Jeff Henry, was the head coach of those back-to-back regional champions of 2002 and '03, and guided the Rockets for 10 seasons before stepping down; he still remains as Rockridge's boys' track and field coach. The younger Henry got to experience playing for his dad in the latter's final year at the helm.
"I was nervous about that at first, how well we'd get along during the basketball season, but we got along really well,'' said the younger Henry."It was all serious business; we were player/coach for the games and all the stuff related to that. He taught me most everything I know about basketball, especially with my shot. If not for him, that could be a lot worse.''
It was T.J.'s steady play last week for his new head coach, second-year crew chief Toby Whiteman, that earned him this week's Area Pacesetter honor from The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Henry also helped lead the Rockets into the Class 2A Farmington Sectional.
Henry's shot is just one part of his multi-faceted game. Averaging four rebounds, three assists and two steals per game to go with the 8.5 points per night he adds to a potent Rocket offense, the 6-foot-2, three-year varsity standout fills a vital role for Whiteman's 23-4, West Central North co-championship team.
"The last month of the season, he's been playing excellent, and playing some really good defense,'' said Whiteman. "He's given a lot of energy, knocked down a lot of shots and really stepped up and done a nice job of being a senior leader. Both him and Nyle (Stevens) have done a great job as leaders. T.J.'s always been a good basketball player, but this last month, he's really figuring it out.
"He's prototypical in that he'll do the things we need. We need him to knock down a shot, he does that. Play great defense, he does that. Run the floor, kick the ball to people, rebound, he'll do that. He's our X-factor, finds what needs to be done and gets it done.''
Even on a roster featuring not one, but two high-octane scorers in junior center EthanHapp and sophomore guard Bryan Heath, Henry knows that the attention those two draw from opposing defenses will mean his time to shine could come anytime.
"They're not always going to be on, so there's got to be others who step up,'' he said. "I'll take on that (scoring) role once in a while. Whatever the team needs me to do, I'll step up and do my best.''
After his father stepped away from the Rockridge sidelines in favor of Whiteman, Henry's attitude never wavered.
"I was disappointed to see my dad step down,'' he stated, "but I wasn't about to throw a fit or pout about it. I was ready to do whatever was needed, whatever Coach (Whiteman) needed me to do, and it's been a great pleasure playing under him. He's an awesome coach. The thing I like is that, even when we beat teams big, he points out flaws we need to work on, and encourages us to always improve.
"Whenever we've lost, we've taken what we could from it. The Illini West game (a 59-53 loss at Carthage) opened our eyes a bit and showed we needed to step up our game.''
Henry hopes he and his teammates can step it up at least one more time as they gear up for their sectional semifinal showdown with a 24-5 Minonk Fieldcrest club that reached the 2A Elite Eight last winter, beating area powers Riverdale and Monmouth-Roseville in the process.
"Being a senior and all, that really opens my eyes. I've got to do my best while I still can,'' said Henry. "And, I'm going to try and communicate that to the guys.''
AREA PACESETTER T.J. HENRY
Favorite food: Cheesy potatoes. Favorite movie: Hot Rod. Favorite TV show: Family Guy. Favorite music: Country. Favorite school subject: Math. Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant. Favorite college: University of Iowa. Role model: ``My dad.'' In my spare time: ``I love the outdoors -- fishing, boating.'' Parents: Jeff and Danielle Henry, Milan.
IN THE RUNNING: Morgan VanHyfte, Annawan: Netted 37 points and 17 steals in three games last week as the Bravettes made their first trip to the Class 1A state girls' basketball tournament and finished in third place.
Jacob Johnston, Erie: Last week's Area Pacesetter continued his torrid play, netting 89 points and averaging over 10 rebounds per game as the Cardinals won their first regional title since 2005.
Bryan Heath, Rockridge: Tallied 22 points and 13 rebounds in Class 2A boys' basketball regional wins over Mercer County and Orion.
Martel Hunter, Monmouth-Roseville: Led a balanced Titan offense with 27 points in a pair of Class 2A regional victories to help his team repeat as regional champions.
Trevor Lay and Tyler Litton, Wethersfield: Lay tallied 39 points in two Class 1A regional games, with Litton adding 26 points and 13 rebounds to help the Flying Geese to their first regional title in five years.
Ethan Happ, Rockridge: A previous Area Pacer, the junior netted 57 points, snared 21 rebounds and blocked seven shots as the Rockets won their first regional title in 10 years.
Today is Sunday, March 9, the 68th day of 2014. There are 297 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Much damage is being done to sidewalks, shade trees, fences and gardens by hogs that are running at large about town. 1889 -- 125 years ago: H.C. Cleveland was elected air knight captain of Rock Island Division Uniform Rank Knights of Pythias. 1914 -- 100 years ago: B.W. Wilson, authority on birds and their habits, spoke at the weekly luncheon at the Rock Island Club. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The famous Dionne quintuplets have been invited to visit King George and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto on May 22, but Papa Dionne thinks their majesties should include the Callander nursery in their tour. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Ever been smothered by funny stuff? Well more than 2,600 people were last night when two boys named Tom and Dick Smothers took a "rocky, twisting road to folk music" in Davenport Masonic Temple. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Moline residents soon may be asked to recycle part of their garbage and might even get paid for it.