In an age of political correctness and the contrived sound bite, Marshall Henderson is an anomaly, a free-spirit college basketball hasn't seen since Jason Williams brought his killer crossover to Gainesville in the late 1990s. Dating back even further, it's not a stretch to consider Henderson a Bill Walton in a shooter's body.
Unafraid to show his emotions, the Ole Miss junior guard leaped high into the air and pumped his fist feverishly following the Rebels' thrilling comeback over Missouri on Friday night. Henderson reportedly screamed so loudly in the locker room that he irked several Tigers players as they walked through a hallway at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. With less than 15 hours before the Rebels' next game, an SEC semifinals matchup against Vanderbilt, Henderson exclaimed early on Saturday morning, “I'm ready to play right now, I'm crazy, let's go!”
On Sunday, Henderson sparked a furious 28-8 run, as Ole Miss rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to defeat Florida 66-63 in the SEC Tournament finals. When the final horn sounded, Henderson sprinted toward the press table in pure elation while repeatedly clutching the Ole Miss logo on his jersey. With the victory, the Rebels captured an SEC Tournament title for the first time since 1981 and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
“We're the champions, it feels really good” said Henderson, who earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors after scoring 21 points. “Any team I'm on I expect to win a championship.”
After draining a 3-pointer at the top of the key early in the second half to cut the Gators' lead to 41-36, Henderson turned toward a contingent of Rebels' fans and flashed a “land shark,” a sign often used by defenders on the Ole Miss football team when celebrating a sack. For Henderson's entire career he has antagonized opposing players and fans with his antics. The zany, unconventional guard is unapologetic about his on-court demeanor.
“I've been the villain everywhere I've gone,” Henderson said. “I like it actually, I feed off it. I like when my name gets announced and all I hear is “booooo,” that's the best. It just makes me smile.”
Henderson's father, Willie, his prep coach at L.D. Bell High School outside Dallas, indicated that his son's temperament derives from an intense will to win and help his teammates become better. Henderson's father recalls several instances of his son yelling at the television in the family living room during Texas Rangers' games when he didn't think a player exerted maximum effort.
“It's in his genes, we have a really competitive family -- we'll fight over a bowl of cereal,” the elder Henderson said. “I don't think I've heard anything negative about him from people on his team or the fan base. It's all about winning, he's going to give you everything he has and he expects that from his teammates."
He received it in Sunday's final from forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner , both of whom dominated the Gators inside. Holloway finished with game-highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds, while missing only three of 14 attempts from the floor. Buckner led the Rebels with three blocks, while constantly altering Gators' shots in the paint. Buckner's finish off an alley-oop from Henderson at the 13:37 mark tied the game for the first time since the opening tip.
Henderson earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors at Utah in 2009-2010, but clashed with former Utes coach Jim Boylen sporadically and decided to transfer to Texas Tech. The 6-2, 175 pound guard sat out the following season and then elected to transfer again after the dismissal of former Red Raiders coach Pat Knight. Henderson landed at South Plains Junior College (Tex.), where he led the NJCAA national champions with a perfect 36-0 record. The calming effect of South Plains coach Steve Green helped Henderson grow up, his father said.
Henderson is taking his act to the NCAA tournament, where he strives to become the next in a long line of shooters to dazzle the nation with his remarkable range.
“I know personally for me the last couple years I've seen Steph Curry and Jimmer Fredette,” Henderson said. “They got their money, that's what I'm trying to do.”
Henderson has a unique relationship with Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. The two are so in sync, according to Henderson, that they are “pretty much the exact same person,” except for their difference in age. Joe Dean Jr., a longtime TV color analyst on SEC basketball games, has even referred to the sharpshooter as “Marshall Kennedy.”
“We see eye to eye on a lot of things,” Henderson said. “He's a blessing, he's been able to tell me, ‘don't calm down, but just be conscience of what you're doing and who is watching.'”
In Kennedy's postgame press conference he alluded to the ESPN film “Survive and Advance,” on N.C. State's run to the 1983 National Championship under Jim Valvano. In 1987, Kennedy played on Valvano's ACC Tournament Championship team with the Wolfpack, before he transferred to Alabama-Birmingham.
“It's ironic that 30 for 30 is coming out today, is it not? The Jimmy V survive and advance,” Kennedy said. “I understand we need to win basketball games, but as the leader of these young men one lesson I think we learned is the value of perseverance. I'm glad they were listening, that's what happened for us today.”
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