Leon Henry gains rewards he has worked for

SOUTHERN DASH: New Zealand Breakers' small forward Leon Henry.
SOUTHERN DASH: New Zealand Breakers' small forward Leon Henry.

Of all the success stories that have emerged during this remarkable 10-game winning streak by the Breakers, Leon Henry's is arguably the most heart-warming.

The 27-year-old backup small forward has become a fan favourite at the Auckland-based club as he's shaken off a slow start to emerge as a heady contributor among the best bench squad in the league.

Henry has come of age over the last couple of months as the Breakers have surged to an 18-3 record, and a two-loss advantage over their nearest rivals the Perth Wildcats.

His ability to come in and hit the deep three has become a feature of a Breakers game that has gone to a new level during a post-Christmas period where they've won all six road games and shaken off the demands of an exhaustive schedule.

Henry doesn't play a lot of minutes - somewhere between 10 and 14 is his norm - but he's fast turning them into decisive ones. He's a floor-stretcher with his tremendous range and also an effective rebounder, courtesy of a wingspan - said to be 2.16m - that belongs on an albatross.

The Aucklander doesn't have the swiftest feet in the business, and can pick up quick fouls, but he understands his strengths, plays hard, and of late has been adding a whole lot more than he's subtracting.

Plus, he's playing through stress fractures in his legs that will likely require off-season surgery which he brushes off as something he just has to "play through".

Two games back Henry had 14 points in as many minutes against Wollongong to go with three boards and a pair of assists in a defining turn.

Last week against Perth he came in and knocked down two big triples as the Breakers bench mob - aka "the Blue Squad" - changed the momentum of the game.

He, fellow gunner Corey Webster, young import Will Hudson and veteran duo CJ Bruton and Dillon Boucher are thriving as impact men off the bench. So much so that coach Andrej Lemanis admits he struggles to find some the minutes they deserve.

"We talk about it as a group," said the coach of the squad's depth. "It can be our greatest strength and our greatest weakness, depending on how we choose to deal with it mentally.

"[But] it enables us to play that up-court disruptive defence, and we can challenge our guys to do certain things as we know we can sustain it for 40 minutes because of the quality people we've got coming in."

Henry is an unassuming type of hero, not to mention a patient one.

This is a guy who spent a whole season with the Breakers as a practice body just to gain the experience he needed to push for a full roster spot.

"It was definitely worth it. That was my foot in the door," he reflected. "Having Deano [assistant coach Dean Vickerman] put my name out there to Andrej and for them to have belief in me . . . I'm blessed to be here."

Henry, whose partner is Kiwi R&B artist Aaradhna, says he doesn't fret about things like minutes and being stuck behind a player as good as Tom Abercrombie in his position. If the team's winning, he's happy, and the bench mob have adopted a pretty simple philosophy.

"Guys like Dillon and CJ say when we go on there to have that spark like we do in training, and that's built my confidence up. I'm just trying to make an impact in any way I can, whether it's hitting a few shots or getting a couple of rebounds.

"You see in training how we go at it, mouthing off at each other and it's pretty competitive. It's about carrying that into the games and you can see what's been happening when we do that."

Henry's is a star on the rise at the Breakers. He's playing some power forward now too, and the club is looking closely at him as a potential successor for Boucher when he retires at season's end. Look for those big shots to keep coming as the Breakers take their show to Sydney tomorrow night.

Fairfax Media