At the crossroads of a career, is Marshall Henderson ready to make a change?

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Marshall Henderson was the leading scorer in the SEC, averaging 20.1 points, and was one of just 16 players to average more than 20 points last season. Erick Green of Virginia Tech was the only other player in that category to play for a team in one of the six power conferences. Henderson also set an SEC record by hitting 138 three-pointers while leading Ole Miss to their first NCAA tournament since 2002, as he won MVP honors as the Rebels took home the SEC tournament title.

All else aside, Marshall Henderson is a very, very good basketball player.

But no one knows who Henderson is because of what he is capable of doing with a basketball in his hands.

Instead, he became the most polarizing player in college hoops thanks to his on-court antics, his habits off the floor and his past run-ins with the law.

Some of it he can’t get away from. He was caught buying 57 grams of weed with $800 in counterfeit money back in May of 2009. He got probation for that charge, but eventually violated his probation when he tested positive for weed, cocaine and alcohol, landing him 25 days in jail. He flamed out at Utah — where he was dubbed the ‘villain of the Mountain West‘ in part for a punch he threw at BYU’s Jackson Emery — before landing Texas Tech, where he never he played a game. Henderson then spent a season at South Plains Junior College before winding up at Mississippi. Henderson was also kicked off of his high school team, which was coached by his father, as a senior after getting caught at a party with an open container.

Some of it Henderson brings on himself. He became a magnet for attention when a GIF his postgame gestures towards the student section after a win at Auburn went viral. He was then photographed on four different occasions with a drink in hand, one of which came at a bar at 3:30 in the afternoon in Kansas City the day after Ole Miss scored an upset over Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and a day before they were slated to play La Salle for the right to go to the Sweet 16.

“I kind of put myself on the map, as far as trying to get my name out there,” Henderson told NBCSports.com with a smile at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy.

This summer, Henderson has reached a crossroads in his basketball career.

He has a decision to make.

“Everyone knows who I am now.”

But who does Marshall Henderson want to be?

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Marshall Henderson is not a dumb kid.

It may not appear that way when he’s running up and down the court screaming at the crowd or when he’s heaving ice cubes into the stands on national television. He comes off as a lunatic, which isn’t necessarily incorrect. But Henderson gets it. He’s self-aware enough to realize that there is nothing that he can do to change the decisions that he’s made in his past, and he understands that those mistakes are the fuel that drives drunk freshmen in opposing student sections.

“People come and attack me, and I don’t even care,” Henderson said. “I know it’s going to happen and I can’t control what people say.”

And to hear Henderson and his coach Andy Kennedy tell it, he can’t control how he reacts to those taunts, either, because it’s the chip on Henderson’s shoulder — the motivation and determination that he derives from getting jeered — that makes him such a competitor. Henderson isn’t a showboat as much as he is passionately competitive to a fault, they say, and that taking that mentally away from him would cripple him as a player.

Some of that is coach-speak, I’ll admit, but there’s a valid point to be made there. One of the complaints that critics make about amateur hoops in America is that the AAU culture has taken away this generation’s competitive spirit. Playing seven or eight games every weekend in the spring and summer in an effort to gain exposure and improve one’s ranking on Rivals has made losing an acceptable by-product of individual success. Henderson cares about his points and his individual accolades, but he’s a fiery competitor, too.

Kennedy tries to channel that passion, but he doesn’t want to suffocate it. His teammates accept it because they see the work he puts in on a day-to-day basis.

“I believe [his intensity] comes from a good place because he’s a son of a coach, he’s grown up in a gym, he loves basketball,” Kennedy told NBCSports.com. “The reason that his teammates embraced it was that they saw it every day.”

“There’s very few who actually know what we do on a day-to-day basis,” Henderson said. “Those are my teammates, my coaches, my good friends.”

Henderson’s also one of the most entertaining players in the country. He’s the bizarro Jimmer Fredette. College basketball needs characters, and if Henderson’s role is that of the villain, he plays it to perfection. It may rub some people the wrong way, but I have no qualms with how he acts on the court.

Where Henderson needs to make a change is off the court.

In the grand scheme of things, the crimes that Henderson has committed are relatively minor. He used counterfeit money to try to buy weed. He violated his probation because he got drunk and high and did some coke. You wouldn’t want to see your daughter dating a guy like that, but he’s not Aaron Hernandez or Josh Brent.

At the end of the day, Henderson is living the dream of every frat boy across the country. He’s enjoying college the way that all of the moralizers on twitter enjoyed college. He pounds Coors Light, he plays beer pong, and he just so happens to be quite proficient at firing 25-footers with reckless abandon, only his games are on ESPN, not in campus intramural leagues.

I wish I could have lived my life like that in college.

“Many times I’m envious of maybe his free spirit,” Kennedy said, “because he seems to be having more fun than I am.”

But Henderson also has a senior season to worry about and a professional career to work towards, and that’s why he needs to make a change.

“Off the floor, he’s the lone senior on a team coming back from 27 wins,” Kennedy said, “and with that comes some responsibility. In year one, you’re trying to figure things out for yourself. In year two, as a senior, you’ve got to lead by your actions. And you’ve also got to be there for the younger guys, to mentor them along if our team’s going to have a chance to be successful.”

Henderson wants to play professionally after college. He thinks he has a shot of making an NBA roster, but for that to happen, he needs to shed the image of being an out-of-control college kid. If Allen Iverson and JR Smith have proven anything, it’s that there is a place for you in the NBA if you party hard if you’re talented enough. Marshall Henderson isn’t JR Smith, and he certainly isn’t Allen Iverson.

Is Henderson ready to make that change?

Maybe.

“All I can do is just focus, take it one day ahead and move on,” he said. “Just keep proving to people that yes, I was a dumbass, and I may have been more extreme than others, but you can’t change that, just go one day at a time.”

And maybe not.

“I think if anything it can help me. I can kind of, maybe not exactly change my ways, but it can seen as if I did. Just keep my nose clean for the meantime, and they can be like, ‘Oh, look, he matured.'”

It’s his choice to make.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Virginia Tech picks up most important win of the season over No. 10 North Carolina

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Virginia Tech picked up its most important win of the season on Monday night as the Hokies earned an 80-69 ACC home win over No. 10 North Carolina.

While the Hokies have been competitive against some good teams, they’ve never been able to get over the hump against a team as good as the Tar Heels this season. Virginia Tech had high hopes entering the year as a potential ACC dark horse and dangerous team in March. So far, they’ve largely fallen short of those expectations.

During Monday’s win over North Carolina, the Hokies ramped up the defensive intensity and looked like a team that could still be dangerous the rest of the season.

Playing better defense than they’ve shown for much of the season, Virginia Tech also knocked down enough big shots as they made plays on both ends of the floor against the Tar Heels. Neutralizing everyone on the North Carolina offense outside of Luke Maye and Joel Berry (23 points each), the Hokies had a balanced defensive effort that helped to shut down other options for North Carolina’s offense. The Tar Heels only shot 32 percent from three-point range as Virginia Tech’s perimeter defense looked more consistent than in other games during the season.

Virginia Tech has a top-35 offense (according to KenPom) this season. Scoring points and having enough weapons on that end has never been the issue. Virginia Tech knocked down 12 three-pointers, shooting 40 percent from distance as seven different players made threes for the Hokies. Even on a night where Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (eight points each) both struggled to consistently knock down shots, Virginia Tech had plenty of offense. Justin Robinson led the way with 19 points while Ahmed Hill (18 points) and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (16 points) both contributed plenty of offense as well.

The defense for the Hokies hasn’t been able to hold up against some of the elite teams on the schedule. With wins only over Pitt and Wake Forest before Monday night, the Hokies hadn’t picked up a win over a good ACC team thus far this season. And after allowing over 90 points in losses to Florida State, Louisville and Kentucky, Virginia Tech’s defense had a tendency to disappear against the best teams they faced on the schedule.

The North Carolina win was not only the signature victory that Virginia Tech could use at this point in the season. It was also a huge defensive improvement from what the Hokies have shown so far this season. Over the next month, Virginia Tech’s schedule remains difficult. They also don’t play any ranked teams until back-to-back road games on Feb. 10 and 14 against Virginia and Duke.

If Virginia Tech can put together a solid streak and continue to improve its defense, we can get a glimpse into how they could look during that important conference stretch in a few weeks. The Hokies looked like a NCAA tournament caliber team with its win over Monday night. Now can they put together a stretch to back that up and actually get in?

The North Carolina win also makes you wonder if this was a flash in the pan from an overrated team or a glimmer of hope in a turnaround effort.

SMU’s Jarrey Foster out of the season with a knee injury

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SMU will be without junior forward Jarrey Foster for the rest of the season, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-6 Foster is the second leading scorer and leading rebounder for the Mustangs as he partially tore the ACL in his left knee driving to the basket in a win over Wichita State.

Foster was putting up 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game as he’s a huge part of why SMU is 14-6 and in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. Only playing five minutes in the win over the Shockers, Foster didn’t play in the SMU win over Tulane over the weekend.

According to Adam Grosbard of the Dallas Morning News, freshman forward Everett Ray will also miss the rest of the season as he suffered a broken foot in warmups before the Tulane game. The injuries to Ray and Foster leaves the Mustangs with only nine scholarship players left for the season.

Without Foster in the lineup, SMU should still be able to compete for an NCAA tournament bid. The Mustangs just won on the road against a top ten team and have plenty of talent as the team currently has six double-figure scorers. But Foster was the team’s most versatile frontcourt player, leading the team in blocks and creating turnovers on the wing. He’ll be tough to replace on the defensive end and he’s also capable of being a solid scorer.

Coach Cal takes another shot at Duke, Coach K

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Duke and Kentucky have been at the forefront on the recruiting world for some time now, and as of late, it has been Duke that has been winning those wars.

In the Class of 2018, Duke has beaten Kentucky on Cameron Reddish, R.J. Barrett and, on Saturday, Zion Williamson. Kentucky landed Kevin Knox, who many believed was a heavy Duke lean, but the Blue Devils also beat out Kentucky on Marques Bolden.

That has not quite gone as well as planned, but nonetheless, Bolden’s commitment did set off the most recent Petty Wars between the two programs. It started with something that was posted on Coach Cal’s website that said that Kentucky isn’t trying to sell recruits on the idea that the program and the program’s alumni-base will take care of the kid for the rest of his life. That was a clear reference to comments that Hamidou Diallo made about Duke tried to recruit him.

Then, after Bolden committed to Duke, the Duke twitter account did their best to troll Coach Cal, responding to a tweet where he said “Our approach is to give them the fishing rod and the lures to help them catch fish, not to just give you the fish” with this tweet:

That was in the summer prior to the 2016-17 season.

After this year’s Champions Classic, where Kentucky lost and Duke beat Michigan State by playing zone the entire game, Cal had this to say:

“You know what was really funny? We were going to come in and I was going to play 40 minutes of zone. We were. My staff talked me out of it. And then I heard Duke played zone the whole. Like, the whole game. And I was going to do it simply to see if we can really play it then we’ll have to play it against this team. And then naturally I didn’t play one down of it, but I had come in with the idea. Like, let’s just throw it up and play zone the whole game. I laughed and I said look at—when you have a young team like that, a bunch of freshmen, it’s much easier to play zone than to try to teach them man-to-man principles and all the other stuff, which is what we’re trying to do.” (My emphasis added.)

That leads me to today, where Coach Cal met with local media to talk about, among other things, some of the issues that his program has had on the recruiting trail. (Quotes courtesy my buddy Kyle Tucker at SEC Country):

“I don’t sell, like, ‘When you come here, the university and the state will take care of you the rest of your life,’ ” Calipari said. “You may buy that, and I’ve got some great property in some swampland down in Florida to sell you, too.”

 

“Every one of us in this country is based on you’ve gotta take care of yourself. And then when you make it, you make sure that you’re helping [others]. And along the way you bring other people with you,” Calipari said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do, just give these guys the best opportunity. We’re not trying to say this university or this state will take care of you the rest of your life. There’s no socialism here. This stuff is, ‘You’ve gotta go do it and we’re gonna help you do it.’ Some [recruits] like that. Some don’t like it.”

I am so here for all of this.

I love Duke-Kentucky becoming a year-round rivalry. I wish that they played more often than every three years in the Champions Classic.

As part of my effort to become commissioner of college basketball, I propose that these two programs must play at least once every year.

UCLA lands McDonald’s All-American center Moses Brown

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UCLA landed one of the premier Class of 2018 players left on Monday as five-star center Moses Brown pledged to the Bruins.

The 7-foot-1 Brown brings legitimate size and length to the interior for the Bruins as the New York native is one of the better big men in the class. A McDonald’s All-American, Brown is regarded as the No. 20 overall prospect in the national Class of 2018 rankings, according to Rivals. Brown made his announcement with a tweet through Slam.

Brown becomes the headliner of a strong four-man class for the Bruins that includes four-star forward Jules Bernard and guard David Singleton and three-star big man Kenneth Nwuba. UCLA has continued to recruit well despite the Chinese incident and the Ball family essentially leaving the program for good this season.

With his size and ability to impact the game inside, Brown could get early minutes right away for UCLA next season as he becomes an important piece for its future. If Brown stays around for a few years then he could anchor the interior for the Bruins — although it remains to be seen how Brown will look in a more up-and-down system.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kentucky is no longer a top 25 team

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The latest coaches poll was released on Monday, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who the top three teams in the country are.

Villanova, Virginia and Purdue are the consensus three best teams in the sport.

Kentucky also fell out of the top 25 after a pair of losses this week.

Here is the full top 25 poll:

1. Villanova
2. Virginia
3. Purdue
4. Duke
5. Kansas
6. Michigan State
7. West Virginia
8. Xavier
8. Cincinnati
10. North Carolina
11. Oklahoma
12. Arizona
13. Ohio State
14. Texas TEch
15. Gonzaga
16. Wichita State
17. Clemson
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Auburn
20. Arizona State
21. Tennessee
22. Florida
23. Rhode Island
24. Miami
25. Michigan