University of Mississippi shooting guard Marshall Henderson is setting the world of college basketball on fire with his scorching hot shooting touch and controversial behavior. The junior college transfer is averaging an SEC-leading 19.3 points per game, 21 points per game in conference play.
Standing a diminutive 6'2" and weighing 180 pounds, Henderson is not anyone's idea of a high scoring SEC shooting guard. He's not long, only has average speed and no athleticism to speak of. But he does put the shoot in shooting guard.
An icy, heartless gunner is what he is. In fact, Henderson is so icy he even threw ice at the Ole Miss student section during a recent 87-74 loss to the University of Kentucky. In his defense, it was ice they initially tossed on the court in protest of a call. l can't say I completely blame him. Seriously, aside from slowing down the game, players could easily slip and hurt themselves on a piece of ice. I never understood the logic of fans throwing things on the court. Apparently, neither does Henderson.
In the span of three months he has become the biggest name in Ole Miss hoops since, dare I say, Ansu Sesay? When was the last time an Ole Miss Rebel averaged 19 points per game this late in the season? Two-time Wooden Award candidate Justin Reed in 2001. Marshall Henderson's fist pumps, trash-talking, tongue-wagging, chest bumping reactions have many opposing coaches, and their respective student bodies and alumni, seething with anger—and perhaps envy.
The Hurst, Texas native has awakened interest in a Rebels program that has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2002. The Rebels (17-4, 6-2 in conference) recently fell out of the Associated Press Poll—and dropped to No. 23 in the Coaches Poll—after back-to-back loses to an unranked Kentucky team and the No. 4 Florida Gators.
Despite those losses things seem to be looking up for the SEC's former punching bag overall. But critics are asking at what cost? Henderson's behavior flies in the face of conventional southern sensibilities, he talks more trash than a little bit, and he has an arrest record to boot.
According to the Deseret News, court documents reveal Henderson was arrested for a 2009 incident in which he is alleged to have purchased marijuana with counterfeit money. He was eventually sentenced to two years of probation. In 2011 he was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and sentenced to four months in jail during early 2012 for violating his probation. Henderson, according to reports, failed tests for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine while on probation as well.
While I understand the concerns of critics regarding certain aspects of Henderson's behavior, any so-called concerns regarding his past run-ins with the law now amount to little more than sour grapes. Student athletes with arrest records or substance abuse problems prior to stepping on campus are a common part of modern collegiate sports. Former Georgetown Hoya Allen Iverson and former Fresno State Bulldog Chris Herren immediately come to mind. As long as Henderson goes to class and stays out of legal trouble, I don't see what the big deal is.
Henderson's on-court behavior has made him the most polarizing player in recent college basketball memory. His arrest record and past substance abuse gives those who were inclined to not like him because of his on court behavior another reason to vilify him. I like to call it The Three Degrees of Hateration.
During a recent ESPN broadcast of the the Ole Miss game vs. Auburn in which he taunted Auburn fans, former Wake Forest coach turned announcer Dino Gaudio had this to say regarding Marshall's antics. Via USA Today:
"How hard he plays, how much he loves to play, that's what makes him good. The big negative is...you can't be emotionally intoxicated. That's what he does a little bit. When the ball goes in the net and the possession is over, he goes from this highly intelligent player to being so emotional he's engaging the fans."
On the surface this appears to be a simple comment made by a paid sports commentator about a student athlete who many feel deserves to be called controversial. But upon closer inspection, I notice a hint of a low blow in usage of the term "emotionally intoxicated." Some might say that Gaudio simply was searching for a term to describe what he felt was Henderson's abnormal on court behavior.
But I believe he knew exactly what he was doing, placing the words "emotionally" and "intoxicated" in a statement describing the behavior of a player who has struggled with substance abuse. His words, no doubt, had an audience amid the list of haters Henderson has accumulated since the start of the season. Low blow, Mr. Gaudio. Besides, even if there were such a thing as emotional intoxication, wouldn't it be better if Marshall were addicted to emotion and basketball than cocaine?
But Marshall Henderson has racked up a list of prominent fans as well; including University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari, University of Tennessee head basketball coach Cuonzo Martin (whose team he's averaging 30 points against this season), and his own head coach Andy Kennedy. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called Henderson a cross between Sacramento Kings' guard Jimmer Fredette and rapper Eminem.
"I think it's passion. We don't want it to be misconstrued," Andrew Kennedy told the Deseret News. "Everything that he does is sincere. It is team first. We just want to make sure he funnels it in the proper way. He's a guy that's certainly going to garner attention."
Will that attention be too much for Henderson to bare? Only time will tell. Televised confrontations with the head coach? Yeah, he might have to pump his brakes on that just a tad. Over all, I believe he could benefit by showing greater restraint. But only to a degree.
With the SEC tournament looming in the not-so-far off distance, it is safe to say that Marshall Henderson and the University of Mississippi Rebels basketball program will be the subject of further media scrutiny and criticism. I would also bet academic records from Texas Tech, where he enrolled but later left after head coach Pat Knight was dismissed, the University of Utah, where he started in 2010-11, and South Plains Community College, where he earned National Junior College player of the year honors, are a hot item nowadays.
Let's face it, the success of a student athlete turned rebel poster child will arouse the suspicion of the college basketball bourgeois. I hope, for his sake, that everything is in order. From Texas Tech, to University of Utah, South Plains and now the University of Mississippi, nothing says unstable like four collegiate basketball stops.
With all of the mistakes Marshall Henderson has made thus far in his young life, I would hope that he got it right by attending Ole Miss and doing everything humanly possible to remain eligible to play. In doing so, he can continue sticking it to his opponents and critics alike. Both of which appear to give Henderson great joy.
There are those who believe there is a racial component involved in Ole Miss' alleged coddling of Henderson as well. They feel that Henderson would have been sanctioned for his behavior long ago by Ole Miss or the NCAA governing body if he were not white and attending an institution located in the heart of the former Confederate States of America. I will concede that as a possibility. However, it is not Marshall's fault he was born white.
Also, there is a tiny minority amid the Ole Miss fan base who feel he is being unfairly targeted because he is white. I laughed so hard off that one I almost gave myself a spontaneous appendectomy. Oh, the irony! No matter what the circumstances are, it is not fair to judge a man by his past if he is doing everything possible to turn things around in the present. This rings true regardless of race or gender.
Until the day when he is suspended by Ole Miss or deemed ineligible by the NCAA for some egregious violation, I say leave the man be. Let him play ball. But I would ask this of the Ole Miss constituency, please do not suffer from amnesia when the racial tables are turned. So,why don't you shoot that funky jump shot, Marshall. Shoot that funky jump shot right. Shoot that funky jump shot, Marshall. Pull up from half-court and shoot that funky jump shot 'til it drops.