Henderson off probation, on the record livens up the tournament

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Marshall Henderson works with addicts in Oxford, Miss. We were told this because Ole Miss' guard told everyone just about everything Saturday during his team's NCAA tournament off-day media availability.

Henderson also told us his probation for a 2010 forgery charge expired two months ago. That and grad school isn't an option because of those annoying grade requirements. For Henderson, this Saturday airing with the media was some sort of morning after. You're chuckling or outraged or something if you've seen the pictures from the Ole Miss guard's own personal “postgame” on Friday.

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You're wondering how the most visible face in this year's NCAA tournament, a man who once reportedly tested positive for cocaine, marijuana and alcohol -- in one month, if not one sitting, according to USA Today -- can look at you with a straight face.

One minute he talked proudly about an independent study course that allows him to share his “testimony” at a local addiction center in Oxford. The next he's being asked if appearing at a bar Friday afternoon wearing an attention-getting bright red “Ole Miss Rebels” hoodie -- drink of some sort in hand -- sends a conflicting message.

“Kind of, yeah,” Henderson said. “It always makes me feel like a friggin' jack-a. I really just wanted to go out. I really wanted to go out and socialize with all the people here and enjoy the experience.”

That, he did. The weekend of Being Marshall has included a Twitter shout-out from LeBron James as well as a Twitter war with an apparent fake account of a Kentucky player. Of course, Charles Barkley had to have this basketball ringmaster for a TV interview.

“Charles sounds very woozy,” Henderson said.

Takes one to know one? The free spirit who is within two shots of the NCAA record for 3-point attempts in a season isn't about to slow down.

Henderson's take on his wild, controversial, athletically-gifted ride? It's going to continue, “as long as I'm on the front page somewhere.”

Let the moralizing begin. You may be asking how many Duke or Kansas or Stanford or any players would be allowed to visit the local bars after a tournament game. Especially players just off probation who have been subject to drug tests from four separate entities (Ole Miss, NCAA in-season, NCAA championship, probation requirement).

You might wonder what kind of operation they're running down there in Oxford. Then you realize it's not much different that the situation at Texas A&M -- or at a lot of places. Both schools are seemingly one small step from some sort of real scandal with their stars, not just gum-flapping or a Twitter war. Johnny Football has a Johnny Basketball counterpart.

“He's got some craziness in his eyes,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said of his guy.

Sports, not just college sports, has a huge hole when it comes to legislating morality. The NCAA has tried over the years but looks especially impotent lately given its recent conduct. Bud Selig is trying to sue the South Florida clinic that allegedly provided major-league players with PEDs. That makes it sound like the drugs were forced down the players' throats.

Personal conduct in this world is in direct relation to athletic worth. We have seen over the years all manner of miscreants be handed paychecks from the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL, etc., because they could check, dunk, hit or run. Sorry NCAA, major college sports long ago became more like those pros than imitating the amateur ideal.

All that matters going into Sunday's West Regional game against La Salle is that Henderson is on time and upright.

“He's 22 years old,” Kennedy said of Henderson. “I didn't give him an alcohol sobriety test. We didn't make him recite his ABCs backward, but I know this. I know we had a pretty intense 10 o'clock meeting and he was involved in it as they all were.”

I wrote Thursday that outrage in regards to Henderson is also one small step away from hypocrisy. Henderson has a skill. That skill is a commodity that is weighed in relation to winning. Ole Miss -- a program that hadn't been to the tournament in 11 years -- has made its decision. The Rebels are not here without Henderson.

The school's administration and athletic officials are obviously willing to take the risk. If Marshall Henderson wasn't here, he'd be somewhere else. Ole Miss would be worse off, at least on the court.

The SEC office has contacted AD Ross Bjork about Henderson's conduct that has included yapping at Auburn fans, gator-chomping Florida fans and calling SEC coaches “losers.”

“I've never seen a player like this personally be so much in a zone and be so emotional,” Bjork said, “and take it to the next level. He talks about this: ‘Hey, I've got to play with this chip on my shoulder.' "

Like most of these situations, this one is bathed in shades of gray. Henderson could graduate this summer but says if it's a choice between grad school -- where he would have to maintain a certain grade -- and the regular pace of school, it's a no brainer. And, by the way, one of the most hated players in the game is on track to graduate in May 2014 with a general studies degree.

Bjork admitted to talking to Kennedy about Henderson's conduct since “day one.” Bjork also speaks fondly of the player, thanking him for the chance after the SEC tournament win earlier this week. He speaks of Henderson crying in the huddle after a couple of costly turnovers.

It should be noted that Henderson is street legal at 22. There is no conclusive proof he drank alcohol. It wasn't like Henderson was partying at midnight. The pictures were taken in the afternoon. The players were cut free after their 11:40 a.m. CT game to eat on their own.

When the Twitpics surfaced, Bjork said Henderson was summoned back to the team hotel a few blocks away.

“All I saw was a clear cup next to him, but whose was that?” Bjork said. “It wasn't like he was guzzling a beer … As soon as those pictures were posted, we got him back to the hotel. It's just not good to be in public.

“I really think he's had a good week. Look at the pressure the kid's under. He's living under a microscope he hasn't seen, this program hasn't seen.”

It's a microscope that in some sense the Ole Miss administration is enjoying, too. It has an up-and-coming football program whose coach (Hugh Freeze) just landed a monster recruiting class. It has a basketball program that is the talk of the country. It has a player who one day wants to run his own addiction center because he has “been down that road.”

We'll have to take him at his word. Bjork told me Saturday that his star guard had not failed any of those drug tests.

The star guard told us he hasn't failed, ever.

“I don't regret anything I do in life,” he said.

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