On March 3, the Tufts men’s basketball team faced off against Widener University in Keene, N.H. It was the most significant game of the season to date; the tension was apparent and the Jumbos needed someone to step up. That someone was senior guard and captain Theo “Sarge” Henry. When the squad’s season was on the line, Henry took charge and lived up to his nickname, leading the team to the 78–66 victory with 19 points, including a 12–12 performance from the line. However, this leadership did not magically appear out of nowhere. Instead, it is a trait he has cultivated throughout his basketball career, starting from the very beginning.
As the youngest in his family, there is a sense of pride in being able to compete and battle against your siblings. For Henry, playing pickup against his older brothers Spencer and Oliver was where it all began.
“Having two older siblings, we’d really get after it, so that’s kind of where I learned to play, to be tough,” Henry said. “Me and my brothers and my dad, we used to play two-on-two, one-on-one all the time, every night.”
From these backyard battles in Ardmore, Pa., Henry began to develop his game, which he would then take to local recreational leagues, to middle school and then to Lower Merion High School, alma mater of the late great Kobe Bryant. This high school basketball program was one that Henry hoped to be a part of growing up, and due to the environment created by the coaches and players there, it felt like a college program to him.
“I’d say one of my coaches, Coach Doug Young really had a personal influence on me: We worked out together all the time and he was key in my player development, growing as a point guard, developing my skills and also on a personal note, growing up,” Henry said. “You spend every day of your life doing something and it teaches you a lot. You can’t say enough about my experiences at Lower Merion.”
One of these incredibly influential experiences for Henry was his performance in a home episode of what was an enormous perennial rivalry with Chester High School during the district playoffs.
“Huge matchup and packed crowd like I’ve never seen — it was as packed as the gym’s ever been,” Henry said. “We won in a really close game and I had some really key plays to help my team win, and it was an iconic matchup and something that was really fun to be a part of.”
Wanting to take his game and studies to the next level after playing for a strong, tight-knit high school program, Henry began the college search and recruitment process. The Daily asked Henry what ultimately made him decide that Tufts was the place for him.
“It certainly wasn’t the weather. I remember coming up here; it was a rainy day, I had just finished a visit somewhere else and it was miserable,” Henry joked. “It was just like the team, the camaraderie, the culture, the guys — it was a player-led team and they welcomed me in right away on my visit. We played pickup, I felt like it was a good fit from a basketball standpoint, and then I spent the night here and we just had a fun time together. I really enjoyed the guys and I saw a place where I could kind of have a family in the basketball side of things, and also it’d be a great fit for my academic pursuits.”
It was this culture and camaraderie that he noticed on his visit with the coaches and players that would still be evident to him after four years with the program.
“I can’t say enough about my teammates. These guys have become my brothers over four years,” Henry said. “My class coming in, those are my guys; just an amazing group to go to battle with every day. I couldn’t ask for more out of my teammates and the basketball experience in college as a whole.”
In the midst of Henry’s college career, Brandon Linton joined the team as head coach. Henry acknowledged Linton’s influence these past two years.
“I think Coach Linton encouraged my growth, always kept it straight with me, and I’ll always respect the way that he came in and let the players thrive in our role,” Henry said. “He always valued the relationships and I felt like in a college setting where you have so much going on, it is really important to have coaches who value relationships.”
With this support from his teammates and coaches, Henry was able to find success as a Jumbo. Despite coming in as an underdog, not playing much during his first-year season and having his sophomore season canceled due to COVID-19, he started making strides his junior year and truly broke out during his senior campaign.
“I really broke out and showed who I am in terms of a player, a leader and just had some really key games, especially down the stretch in the tournament, and personally that was super rewarding,” Henry said. “I really like to share my leadership and experience with the younger guys on the team and influence them the way I think I’ve had older teammates have an influence on me.”
As the Jumbos transition to a younger squad next year, this influence will be significant in guiding them in the right direction. Henry’s impact as a leader was demonstrated in his game, too, with his grit, determination and will to win.
“Everything comes from my will to win, really just doing anything that my team needs for me,” Henry said. “A lot of that time that’s guarding the best player on the other team or stepping up to make big shots: just do it all and more than anything holding the team together and I think being a steady voice, a steady person for my teammates to lean on and lead them when things got tight.”
In any given game this could be seen in Henry’s ability to direct the team in huddles, run the offense, get a steal when needed, dive for loose balls and take a charge. With leadership like Henry’s, the Jumbos had an outstanding 2022–23 season, making it to the NCAA second round and putting up a fight against a very strong Keene State squad. Entering the NESCAC playoffs, however, it was uncertain if the Jumbos would make the NCAA Tournament. It was Henry’s favorite memory — the NESCAC quarterfinals victory away at the highly ranked Middlebury in a packed gym when the squad found itself as heavy underdogs — that solidified the prospect of an at-large bid.
“When we played them there before, they beat us by 16. We came in there with a plan, we came in there hungry and I mean we took it to them. We went into double [overtime] — they did some crazy things to kind of bring it back — but no, we fought, we weren’t going to quit and we did what few people did that year, and that’s beat them in their home gym,” Henry said. “Unbelievable game. Unbelievable atmosphere. One that I’ll definitely cherish for years to come.”
In sports, it is memories like these with your team that you nostalgically reflect on for the rest of your life. As Henry moves on from Tufts and basketball, he will move to New York City to work as a software engineer for Snapchat, and he soon hopes to venture out into entrepreneurship. Nonetheless, he will be grateful for the memories and experiences with the men’s basketball program forever, and the program undoubtedly will be just as grateful for his contributions because, without them, it would not be the same team.