PEORIA — Ja'Shon Henry is facing adversity now, and all the advice he needs is tattooed on the inside of his right bicep:
"We have to lose the small battles in order to win the war."
Those words are more than a tattoo for Henry. They represent a big part of his journey as the Bradley senior basketball player for the second time this season deals with a head injury — one that might keep him out for the rest of the year.
"My father was fighting pancreatic cancer and had a setback with his chemo," Henry said. "That's where those words come from. I got that tattoo to remind me of his fight and how he dealt with it."
Claude Henry, a U.S. Air Force veteran, died on May 27, 2017. But he lives on with his son in those words, and a beautiful tattoo on the outside of Ja'Shon Henry's right bicep, depicting Claude Henry's hands opening to a stairway to Heaven.
"He was my best friend," Henry said. "We had such a unique, special bond. I was always at his side as a little kid, washing the car, playing basketball with him in the driveway.
"Maybe my greatest memory with him was when I was 10. He took me to my first NBA game, to see my favorite player, Kobe, with the Lakers in a game at Minnesota. Really great seats, too. We got there super early, watched warmups and everything.
"Basketball was it for me after that."
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Henry, 22, was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and grew up in Wilcox. He averaged 28.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2017-18 playing for Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox. That earned him National Preparatory Association MVP honors and made him the ninth-ranked Canadian prospect in the class of 2018.
He carries his father with him
Ja'Shon Henry has a ritual during the national anthem on game nights. Two thumps to his chest and a gesture skyward.
"That's for my dad," Henry said. "I know he's watching me. I can feel his presence. I feel him. I have a special cross I wear around my neck with his ashes in it.
"He taught me so much about being a man, about life. I miss him every day."
Henry has an older brother, Terrell, and a younger brother, Lamar. He has an older sister, Brittany. And his mom, Stacey, watches him play on live stream and was in the grandstand for Bradley's Missouri Valley Conference championship tournament run before the pandemic struck.
"My dad was my rock," Henry said. "My parents, I credit everything I am to them."
How Henry can help the team
Henry absorbed a flagrant foul and banged his head on the floor during a Dec. 18 game against Saint Joseph in Carver Arena.
That kept him out for six straight games and 29 days, until he was cleared for a comeback at Illinois State last Sunday. He took a hit to his head under the basket in that game, looked wobbly, and came out. He's been ruled out indefinitely. There are no real timelines with head injuries.
"He's been through so much adversity in his life," Bradley coach Brian Wardle said. "He has such a big heart, and he's so mature. Ja'Shon was a big part of our championships, and he has that experience. It hurts to see him not on the floor with us.
"He's taken a big step forward in vocal leadership, and we know that will continue."
What comes next?
Henry was part of Bradley's 2018-19 and 2019-20 MVC tournament title teams that earned NCAA tourney bids. He was named to the Valley's Most Improved team as a sophomore in '19-20, and last season as a junior earned a spot on the conference's All-Bench team as he emerged as perhaps the best sixth man in the Valley.
As a senior this season, Henry moved into the starting lineup and was counted on for inside dominance and leadership at the heart of the team. Before his injury, he delivered 10.4 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game.
"It's an unfortunate situation, but I can still help the team," Henry said. "I try to help the young guys. Talk to them, mentor them. I feel like I have value."
Henry says he meets with the team's medical staff every day, constant re-evaluations and monitoring. And the future? Will he come back next season as a super senior under the NCAA's extended eligibility?
"I'm keeping the doors open," Henry said. "I'm not burning any bridges, not making any decisions on that yet."
How to watch or listen, and what to know about Southern Illinois at Bradley
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Carver Arena, Peoria
Listen: WMBD 1470-AM, 100.3-FM
Live updates: Throughout the game at pjstar.com.
Records: Bradley 9-10 (3-4), 6th in MVC. SIU 10-8 (3-3), 4th in MVC.
KenPom ranking: Bradley No. 116. SIU No. 128.
NET ranking: Bradley No. 115. SIU No. 139.
Head coaches: Bradley, Brian Wardle. SIU, Bryan Mullins.
All-time series: Bradley, 53-49. In 2020-21: BU W 74-66, L 69-68, L 74-63 (MVC tourney).
Bradley: FG 44.8%. 3-point FG 34.8%. Top players: Guard Terry Roberts 15.9 ppg, 4.4 apg; Rienk Mast 10.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg; Malevy Leons 10.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 43.8% from 3, team-best 23 blocks; Ja'Shon Henry 10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg.
SIU: FG 45.6%. 3-point FG 36.1%. SIU star 6-foot-6 junior forward Marcus Domask leads the conference and is 7th in the nation in minutes played (36.07). Leads SIU in scoring (15.9 ppg), rebounds (4.8) and assists (4.06). Junior guard Lance Jones' free throw with 2.3 seconds left gave SIU 69-68 win over BU in Carver Arena last Feb. 7. Junior guard Steven Verplancken Jr. is 3rd in the MVC in 3-point shooting (.461).
'Voice of the Braves' Show
Bradley's Voice of the Brave Show, with host Dave Snell and BU head coach Brian Wardle, has finalized its second-half schedule.
The show will air on Monday from Crusen's (War Memorial), then on Feb. 7 from Alexander's Steakhouse, Feb. 21 from Lariat Steakhouse and Feb. 28 from Crusen's (War Memorial).
All shows are at 6 p.m. and air on 1470 and 100.3 WMBD.
Braves forward Max Ekono, a native of L'Isle-Adam, France, turned 20 on Friday. The team celebrated his birthday after practice by having French-speaking teammates Connor Linke and Ari Boya sing Happy Birthday in French. ... Bradley is at No.115 in the NCAA's NET rankings, with Drake at 110 and UNI at 114. BU owns wins over both. ... BU forward Rienk Mast continues to rise, with 18.3 points in his last four games on 49.1% shooting from the field and 42.1% from 3. ... Mast leads the Valley and is 73rd nationally with 8.2 rebounds per game. He is averaging 18 points per game in his last five outings after putting up 7.8 in his first 14. ... SIU has held all but one opponent under 70 points, including 14 straight games to start the season. SIU allows 60.9 ppg, best in the Valley and 23rd in the nation. ... Bradley guard Ville Tahvanainen shoots 44.2% from 3-point range in games the BU wins. In Bradley's losses, he shoots 23.8% from 3.
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: Bradley basketball: Ja'Shon Henry inspired by his late father