Men's Basketball

Ole Miss gunner Marshall Henderson has knack for riling opponents

Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson claps after scoring against Vanderbilt in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. Henderson led Mississippi with 26 points as they won in overtime 89-79. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson claps after scoring against Vanderbilt in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. Henderson led Mississippi with 26 points as they won in overtime 89-79. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Marshall Henderson, a fully bloomed phenomenon mid-way through his first season for Mississippi, hoped Dick Vitale would be one of ESPN's announcers when the Rebels play Kentucky.

"Because I feel I will give him a heart attack," Henderson said recently. "I can just hear it now. A three goes in. 'AAAAhhhhh!!! AAAAhhhhh!!!'"

Alas, ESPN's gonzo commentator won't be in Oxford Tuesday night to react to college basketball's gonzo player. With the earnestly analytical Jimmy Dykes working the game, the telecast figures to be a strained marriage of sporting science and emotional artistry.

Henderson leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring (19.2 points per game), three-pointers per game (3.9) and compelling showmanship. He shoots-he scores only begins the entertainment. Then comes a reaction: a dash somewhere, a scream, arms raised in triumph or face contorted in ecstasy.

"He can get into conversations," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. "He talks to teammates, the other team, the crowd, the officials, me."

Ole Miss fans love the passion play. Crowds on the road? Not so much.

"I feel like I'm getting it from different angles," Henderson said with infectious agreeability. "Some people just don't like the way I am. I feel that's a bunch of old-school people. They're just like, 'Oh, no. We don't like him.'

"Well, I'm sorry. I'm different. I've got to be different in order to be successful."

His father, Willie, a high school coach in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex town of Hurst, Texas., long ago encouraged his son to avoid the ordinary as he would an opponent trying to draw a charge.

"He always told me, you have to do something that separates yourself from the pack," Henderson said. "Every team has a little white guy who can shoot threes. I'm trying to make a difference."

Henderson described his unabashed displays of emotion (he denied making a fingered gesture at Tennessee fans earlier this month) as something more than a response to external stimuli.

"That's not really me reacting," he said. "That's like my heart and soul coming out of me. All the work I put in to finally be successful on a great team."

The evolution to captivating star for Ole Miss has been anything but smooth.

The embodiment of no-regret shooting, Henderson has described playing for his father in high school as "freakin' miserable." The relationship between father and son grew so strained that Henderson moved out of his parents' home at one point of his high school senior year.

It was about then that Henderson committed what Kennedy delicately calls a "transgression." As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported, Henderson twice tried to buy 59 grams of marijuana using $800 in counterfeit money. He was charged with forgery, sentenced to probation and served 25 days in jail. Later, he did community service for violating terms of his probation.

"I didn't realize it was going to be as big a deal as it was," he said. "I didn't really know what I was doing. When I was in high school, I was crazy and definitely off on the wrong path.

"It really opened my eyes to how much of an idiot I was being and how much I could have a life in basketball."

Ole Miss is Henderson's fourth college. He began at Utah, where he averaged 11.8 points as a freshman. After one season, he transferred to Texas Tech. When that school fired Pat Knight as coach, Henderson's father got him a spot at South Plains College, a junior college in Levelland, Texas.

Adventures and misadventures ensued.

"If you truly aren't his coach, I don't think you can make an honest assessment," South Plains Coach Steve Green said. "I was a little leery. You know, the theatrics. I'm in junior college. 'Marshall, we're going to a small gym. All these cowboys and baseball players, there's not a lot of game control.' I was a little afraid there would be a riot."

For instance:

When South Plains played at Midland, which isn't far from Lubbock, Green fretted that Texas Tech fans might unnerve Henderson.

"They decided they were really going to razz him," the South Plains coach said. "He jumped up and shot some of the most horrendous threes I've ever seen. It's borderline embarrassing. You could almost hear some of the people in the stands kind of laughing."

At halftime, Green asked one of his assistants how many three-point shots Henderson had taken. Nine. How many had he made? Five.

"I can live with that," Green said in a deadpan voice.

Or the time Green got tired of Henderson receiving technical fouls for hanging on the rim after a dunk. The coach said he would add a one-game suspension to the next such technical. Then although knowing his parents were coming to the next game, Henderson couldn't resist getting another technical for hanging on the rim. His parents cancelled the trip.

"He wasn't happy about it," Green said. "Maybe he muttered something under his breath. But during the game, he was cheering like a mad man. I think that moment showed his teammates he was not about himself."

Or the time at practice when Henderson stood several feet off the court while five of his teammates ran a fast-break drill. For whatever reason, the point guard threw the ball to Henderson.

"I got you, man," Green recalled Henderson saying. "He catches it and hurls it right in the basket."

College recruiters at the practice looked to Green for an explanation. "Hey, man," Green said he told them. "I see that all the time."

Even as he led South Plains to a 36-0 record and junior college national championship, Henderson made recruiters jittery. There were just too many issues. "A lot of people watched him and said, 'I don't know,'" Green said.

Kennedy, who had known Green for years, also had reservations.

"Look, if this kid keeps his nose clean and you recommend him, I'll take him," Green recalled the Ole Miss coach saying.

So far, it could hardly have worked out better for Henderson and Ole Miss. At 17-2 overall and 6-0 in the SEC, the Rebels are off to the best start in program history. Henderson provides the perimeter shooting to balance two veterans around the basket, Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner.

Against Tennessee last week, Henderson showed again his impossible-to-ignore talent. His catch-and-shoot featured an immediate high-rising pop-up jump and quick release.

"It comes from enormously athletic guys who are guarding me, who are, like, 6-6 with 7-foot wingspans," he said. "And I'm 6-2 and barely have a 5-10 wingspan."

Henderson also showcased how to move without the ball.

"I don't ever really get tired," he said. "I'm just kind of crazy in the head."

Long-time basketball observer Charles Pierce highly recommends Henderson's style.

"If, as I do, you follow college basketball, you have to catch the act on this Marshall Henderson cat at Ole Miss," Pierce wrote in a recent blog. "The most wonderfully crazy shotmeister since Bobby Sura and Sam Cassell were hoisting them at Florida State. Ridiculous range, utterly no conscience, and maniacal court presence."

Basketball runs deep in Henderson's family. His grandfather, Lonnie, a full-blooded native American (Choctaw tribe), played the sport. He coached Henderson's father and uncle. Then he coached Henderson when the Ole Miss player was in the first and second grade. "When my grandpa's my coach, I'm undefeated," Henderson noted.

Lonnie continues to watch and critique.

Of his grandfather's advice, Henderson said he wants to respond, "Peepaw, we play at a little faster speed than you did back in the day."

Henderson can take a step back and observe with bemusement the excitement he stirs. Ditto for the animosity from opposing fans.

"It freaks me out that people take this game so seriously," he said before pausing to laugh. "It's unbelievable how riled up people get over just a game.

"I know what I'm doing. I just want to enjoy the moment and have fun out there, I guess."

Next game

Kentucky at Mississippi

When: Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN)