One on One With Chris Dortch: Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson

There’s not an ounce of truth to the malicious rumor that Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson never met a shot he didn’t like.

“I don’t like layups,” Henderson said. “In fact, I hate two pointers.”

Follow along with Henderson here. There are two good reasons he’s the fastest gun in the South, sound logic behind the fact that, so far this season he’s launched 179 3-pointers, by far the most in the Southeastern Conference and fourth among all Division I players.

The first one is easy. Uh, they give you three points when you make one.

The second reason can be traced back to the day Henderson woke up and realized he wasn’t going to look like Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway, all chiseled and ripped. No, Henderson would be stuck with his scrawny, 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame, and he would have to make the best of it.

So then, launching 3-pointers—an average of 10.5 per game so far this season—is Henderson’s counter, or as he puts it: “The key to being successful due to a lack of God’s gifts—my body, my athleticism, and whatever else I have to overcome at this level. I just try to embrace it. If I could make myself 6-6, I would.”

Actually, Henderson has two more keys to being successful. The first is energy, tons of energy. Imagine the Tasmanian Devil after being strapped to a caffeine IV and you’re almost there. Henderson always seems to be on the balls of his feet, filled with nervous enthusiasm as he hops, skips and jumps around the court, taking advantage of screens, seeking that ounce of daylight he needs to squeeze off a shot.

Then there’s this: When one of those shots goes in, somebody’s going to hear about it. Perhaps it’s the opponent trying to guard him, or a fan in the stands, maybe a teammate or a member of his coaching staff. Some might call it trash talking, but in truth, most of Henderson’s verbiage isn’t meant that way at all.

“He’s talking to himself more than anybody else,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “For the people who aren’t around him, that might look a little unusual. But we’re used to it. I mean, I used to talk to myself when I played.

“Actually, I still do talk to myself—usually about Marshall’s shot selection. That makes me mutter under my breath.”

Steve Green is the coach at South Plains (Texas) College, which last season Henderson led to the NJCAA championship en rout to being chosen national player of the year. Like Kennedy, he thinks Henderson’s constant chatter is a force for good.

“When you’re around him every day, you realize that the kid wants to win,” Green said. “He absolutely loves to win. He’s kind of like a coach on the floor in that he’s coaching everybody, talking to everybody. Somebody makes a mistake, he tells them. He makes a mistake, he tells himself.

“Never a truer statement was spoken than this, though. Marshall’s teammates loved him. They understood that he wanted to win, and they had a great amount of respect for what he does.”

What Henderson does is score. This basketball nomad can put the ball in the hole, and he’s done it everywhere he’s been. As a freshman at Utah, he averaged nearly 12 points a game and set a school freshman record for 3s (65 in 194 attempts).

After deciding then-Utah coach Jim Boylen’s rules didn’t “fit with my individualism,” Henderson headed back to his home state to play for Texas Tech, but after then-coach Pat Knight was fired and replaced by Billy Gillispie, Henderson went on the move again. Because he had already redshirted, junior college was his only option.

Green remembers one of the first games Henderson played for South Plains.

“He took a really bad shot in the first half, actually, four pretty bad shots, and at halftime, (his assistants) were saying ‘what are we going to do about him?’ ” Green said.

Green then took a look at the halftime box score.

“He was 5 for 9 from 3,” Green said. “I told them, ‘I think I can live with that.’ ”

Green lived with a lot of bad shots, and he also came to understand the way Henderson played the game.

“He’s like the craziest fan at the game,” Green said. “If he was allowed to, he would probably paint his face and come out and play. And anybody that says anything to him, he’d have something to say back. He’ll jaw with you. He’s no different than the guy sitting in the stands rooting hard for his team who has paid his money to come to the game and have a good time.”

For the most part, Green let Henderson have his fun. There was a suspension or two, and referees seemed intent on, as Henderson might say, suppressing his individualism. If Henderson tossed in a 3-pointer and then made the 3 goggles sign, he’d often get slapped with a technical foul.

“He had several Ts out here,” Green said. “Sometimes they’d get him for hanging on the rim after a dead ball. That was the thing that kind of bothered me. You always worried about him getting himself so pumped up, he would do something like that. Our officials in this league, well, we’re not exactly on the cutting edge. They were always quick to throw the T.”

That hasn’t been the case at Ole Miss. So far, Henderson hasn’t drawn a single technical. Kennedy had heard all about Henderson before he recruited him. But he checked him out as thoroughly as he could and was convinced Henderson, despite his idiosyncratic style, wouldn’t be a discipline problem. And besides, Kennedy desperately needed a shooter.

A year ago the Rebels, who may have had even more talent than they do this season, struggled to score, and as a result were relegated to their fifth NIT trip in Kennedy’s first six seasons.

Henderson, Kennedy believed, could be the missing ingredient. At Utah and South Plains, Henderson hoisted 506 3-pointers and made 193 of them (.381). OK, so he was the living, breathing definition of a volume shooter, but he made his share, more than enough for Kennedy to know he had to get Henderson on his team. As it turned out, Kennedy didn’t have to twist Henderson’s arm.

“The reason I came here was because I was watching the team last year,” Henderson said. “I noticed they didn’t have an outside scoring threat. I knew the same team was going to be back. Two of the best bigs in the whole country (Holloway and Reginald Bucker) are on the same team. It would have been stupid of me not to come here.

“That’s my role. To open things up for the big men to do what they do.”

Henderson has done a lot more than open the lane for Holloway and Buckner to go to work. He’s leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring (18.9 ppg) and 3-pointers per game (3.8), and just as Kennedy thought, the 23rd-ranked Rebels have benefited. At 15-2 and 4-0 in the SEC, they are considered by bracketology experts, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi among them, as an NCAA Tournament team.

Henderson’s debut in the SEC has been memorable. In his first league game, he went for 32 points in a 92-74 win at Tennessee. When Henderson saw Vol fans hitting the exits early, he hollered at them to hang around. “Don’t leave yet,” he said. “I’m gonna get 30.”

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t seem to have a problem with Henderson’s brashness. In a pre-game press conference before the Vols and Rebels meet again on Thursday night, it sounded as though Martin, whose team is as short on perimeter shooters this season as Ole Miss was a year ago, kind of admires Henderson.

“The guy was scoring the basketball, he was making plays,” Martin said of his first look at Henderson. “I hate being on the other side, but he is a competitive basketball player.”

In another Ole Miss win, at Vanderbilt, the Commodores seemed to have prevailed after Kevin Bright’s 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left. But that was enough time for the Rebels to get the ball to Henderson, who raced down court and tossed in a 35-footer to send the game into overtime, where the Rebels won.

“The kid’s an awfully good player,” said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. “And he’s not the first person that’s been really, really exuberant about his play before. There’s been a long list of guys before him.”

Kennedy seems willing to live with Henderson’s particular brand of “individualism”—to a point. During the Vanderbilt game, Kennedy had to pull the little guard aside and get him to mellow out a bit.

“I don’t want him to get so engaged that it could be distracting for him or our team,” Kennedy said. “It’s about focus, and it’s always been about focus. It’s not about ability, or passion, or energy.”

South Plains coach Steve Green said much the same thing about Henderson, who has never resisted coaching, even when it came from his father, Willie, whom Henderson played for at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst, Tex.

“It was like the best and the worst thing ever,” Henderson said of playing for his dad. “It was cool for some things. But he was hard on me and we got in fights all the time. It worked out because being a coach’s kid, I like to pride myself on being intelligent about the game.”

Henderson has been intelligent enough to learn from his other coaches, too. Green showed Henderson a bit of tough love the night he suspended him for a game that would be played in Dallas, near his hometown. Henderson’s family would be there to see him play.

“That’s when I found out Marshall was a good guy,” Green said. “I told his family I wasn’t playing Marshall that night, and they were very supportive. And I told Marshall how he was going to dress and how he was going to sit on the bench, and if he did something during the game I didn’t like, the suspension would be ongoing.

“He did exactly what I asked him to do, and he cheered for our team like a madman. I’d never seen anything like it. I knew then that this was a good kid.”

Kennedy’s part to play in the saga of Marshall Henderson has been to teach a bit more discrimination when it comes to shot selection, and to use his other skills—Henderson is too modest when it comes to accessing his athleticism—to help him score. After being overly reliant on the 3-ball earlier in the season, Henderson has begun mixing in the drive, forcing his way into the lane and either scoring or getting to the free-throw line, where, as an 86-percent shooter, he cashes in frequently.

So maybe the guy doesn’t hate layups after all?

“Just trying to evolve in the game and change it up for them,” Henderson said of his newfound versatility on offense. “Give them the same look, and you’re completely guardable.”