- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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There are some things you just don't mix -- water and oil, white clothing and mustard -- Tar Heels and Blue Devils. So when Amber Henson gave her verbal commitment to Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie last week, it put her family in a predicament.
Henson's older brother, John, is a freshman at North Carolina and, much like Amber, was a highly touted recruit, ranked by ESPNU as the No. 6 prospect in the 2009 class. The two are incredibly close.
"He's always been a big part of my inspiration to play," Amber Henson said.
Amber said that when it came to her brother affecting her recruiting process, he offered support but applied no pressure to go to North Carolina or anywhere else.
For Henson the decision really came down to academics and style of play. She made unofficial visits to Duke, Florida, North Carolina and multiple visits to Texas. She also considered Maryland and Stanford but did not make visits to either school. The medical program at Duke was a major factor for her, including a special program with walk-throughs with doctors to see if practicing medicine, not just studying it, is right for the student-athlete.
Henson has been making a transition in her game, mostly accepting the fact that she is a go-to player and that she must carry the load for her teams to be at their best. It's something her father has been telling her frequently this year, that it's time to take games over.
"It's a process. My dad still gets on me for it," Henson said. "Sometimes I just lay back and let things happen. I need to develop that killer instinct. It's been like a learning process of learning when to do it."
Playing a bunch of games is one thing the 6-foot-3 forward from Tampa, Fla., is not too keen on. Though Henson, ranked No. 4 in the 2011 class by ESPN HoopGurlz, would love to earn the honor of the top-ranked player in the class, she is more focused on getting better, making the USA Basketball national team and, most importantly getting healthy.
Henson went through a drastic growth spurt when she was young and had a painful condition known as Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is a the swelling of the patella tendon where it meets the tibia and is most common in children ages 10-15. She also suffers from tendonitis in her knees. She is currently rehabbing her knees to deal with a little bit of grinding she's feeling.
It is the pain and these lingering injuries that has Henson undecided about not only which club team she might play for this summer, but whether she'll play at all. If she does play during the April 16-18 spring evaluation period, she will go to the Boo Williams Invitational in Norfolk, Va. And, if so, she will choose from among her team from last summer, the Orlando Comets, and a number of suitors requesting she play with them.
Making the national team would eliminate a portion of the NCAA certified viewing period in July, but even if Henson does not make the team she wants to focus on building her skill level, not playing games.
"There's so many things I need to learn," Henson said.
One hard lesson may be the tough times ahead, considering the malice felt between Duke and North Carolina, if Amber and John Henson continue to support one another regardless of the rivalry.
Amber has agreed not to sit with the Cameron Crazies when the Tar Heel men play at Duke. She even said she'd be willing to sit behind the UNC bench in Carolina blue to support her brother. The love wasn't exactly reciprocated. John told his little sister that he would sit behind her bench, but he "didn't know about wearing a Duke shirt."
Duke fans on The Devil's Den online message boards have been pulling for John to enter the NBA draft early and spare everyone the trouble.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.