|Tonight is the night Marshall Henderson can truly break through to the mainstream -- if Ole Miss beats Kentucky. (AP)|
You've probably seen the GIF by now because everybody's seen the GIF by now
It's of Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson popping his jersey at Auburn.
And getting cussed out.
And flipped off.
The post with the GIF -- and the accompanying analysis from my colleague, Jeff Borzello -- did more Twitter traffic late Saturday and early Sunday than the next 20 stories on CBSSports.com combined. Meantime, Henderson was back in Oxford celebrating Ole Miss's 6-0 SEC record by double-fisting Coors Lights at a party just three nights after celebrating a win over Tennessee by doing something with a girl at a bar. All of this stuff made the rounds on Twitter. Folks can't get enough. So no student-athlete has dominated social media over the past week like this sharp-shooting, trash-talking, possibly crazy and absolutely controversial guard who's currently enrolled in his fourth college since leaving high school. But have you ever seen him actually play a basketball game?
I bet most haven't.
You've watched that GIF more times than you can count, caught random highlights and seen pictures of Henderson holding beers and girls. But the guess here is that the casual sports fan still hasn't watched this 22-year-old Texan launch jumpers live, which is why Tuesday night is such a huge opportunity for Henderson.
That's when Ole Miss plays Kentucky.
It's must-see TV for sports fans, and I realize that's crazy considering it's a college basketball game between Ole Miss and an unranked team. But it's true. Henderson has spent the past week becoming an internet sensation. He's the nation's most talked-about player even though he's still not considered a serious National Player of the Year candidate. But that could change with a big effort in a big win on a big stage over the big brand that is UK. Don't believe me? Just ask Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The kid nicknamed Johnny Football was little more than a fun SEC player until he delivered a big effort in a big win on a big stage over the big brand that is Alabama. Now he's an icon, a Heisman Trophy winner, college football's biggest star by a wide margin. And I don't think that statement would be true today if Manziel wouldn't have performed on the stage that Alabama and CBS provided on that life-altering November afternoon.
Now don't get it twisted.
I'm not comparing that Alabama football team to this Kentucky basketball team because that Alabama football team was undefeated and ranked No. 1, and this Kentucky basketball team is on the bubble with a 13-6 record. Apples to oranges in terms of quality. But the Kentucky brand is still as big as the Alabama brand, and John Calipari is still as big in this sport as Nick Saban is in that sport. So while Florida and Missouri are both better and more accomplished basketball teams at the moment, the Wildcats, with all their tradition and future lottery picks, remain the SEC's biggest brand.
A win over them would serve as validation.
A loss would do the opposite.
So Tuesday night figures to be a big night in the life and career of the SEC's leading scorer who loves to shoot off screens, one way or another. I can't promise he's going to get 25 points in a win, pop his jersey, talk crazy, shotgun a beer and stick his tongue down a girl's throat in public. But that's the plan for Marshall Henderson, I guarantee you. And if he succeeds, rest assured, it'll all be documented on Twitter by Wednesday morning.