Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ole Miss Rebels' Loose Cannon: Marshall Henderson

Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson, who  averages 20.1 points a game, is a polarizing player who entertains some fans and angers others

The Rebels’ Loose Cannon
by Scott Cacciola

Steve Green had seen it all before. The hand gestures. The histrionics. The nonstop conversation Marshall Henderson was having with himself. 

Henderson was in the process of leading Mississippi to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship over Florida on Sunday, and Green, his former junior college coach, was watching the drama unfold on television. When Henderson made the curious decision to Gator-chomp in the general direction of thousands of opposing fans — with nearly eight minutes remaining in a close game — Green could feel himself turning nostalgic.

“I’ve never seen a guy draw the attention of an entire team like he does,” said Green, the coach at South Plains College in Levelland, Tex. “Next thing you know, you’ve fallen into the madness.”

That madness promises to be one of the more compelling subplots in the N.C.A.A. tournament’s opening rounds. A junior guard, Henderson is loud and colorful and borderline obnoxious. He shoots the basketball as if it were coated in molten lava, and he has turned the Rebels’ surprising season into his own reality show. His next episode will be shown Friday when Ole Miss (26-8), the No. 12 seed in the West, faces No. 5 Wisconsin in Kansas City, Mo.

“The whole Marshall Henderson phenomenon — even I’ve been taken aback by that,” Coach Andy Kennedy said. “It’s like traveling with the Beatles.”

Henderson, who averages 20.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, had an eventful SEC tournament. He told reporters that he was just trying “to get that money.” He gave a shout-out to his “haters.” He referred to all the coaches who had voted him second-team all-conference as losers.

Will Hopkins, a longtime Ole Miss fan, said, “If he played for anybody else, I’d throw quarters at him.”

On Monday, an Ole Miss spokesman said he had fielded 80 interview requests for Henderson in the hours since Sunday’s 66-63 win, all of them denied. Henderson, the spokesman said, was “shutting himself down” so he could focus on the tournament.

That decision followed what appeared to be a festive evening. On Monday morning, Henderson informed his 24,000-plus Twitter followers that he had just won 10 consecutive games of “PONG!!,” an apparent reference to a popular drinking game. The time stamp was 4:22 a.m.

“Any kid that’s special does things a little differently,” Green said.

Marshall Henderson | #22  | G| Junior | Ole Miss Rebels
Henderson was not an instant hit when he arrived at Ole Miss. Fans knew about his prior indiscretions. About how, as a freshman at Utah, he had elbowed a Brigham Young player, drawing a one-game suspension. About how he had transferred to Texas Tech, saying the system at Utah did not suit his “individualism.” About how he was arrested in 2009 on a forgery charge and later spent nearly a month in jail for violating his probation. About how Ole Miss was his fourth college in four years.

Still, the Rebels had not made an appearance in the N.C.A.A. tournament since 2002, a drought that seemed likely to continue when Kennedy kicked one of his best players off the team. After years of futility — underscored by low attendance in a musty old arena, the nondescript Tad Smith Coliseum — what was the worst that could happen? Perhaps Henderson was worth the gamble.

Ole Miss won 17 of its first 19 games, a stretch that featured an improbable comeback at Vanderbilt. Henderson drilled a 35-foot shot at the buzzer to force overtime, and the Rebels went on to win, 89-79. Ole Miss made a splash in the national rankings. The hype was just beginning.

For Hopkins, who played baseball at Ole Miss and considers himself a die-hard fan, the tipping point was the Rebels’ 63-61 win at Auburn on Jan. 26. Henderson struggled throughout, but his two late free throws were the difference. He punctuated the game by running to the sideline and popping the “Rebels” on his jersey directly in front of hundreds of Auburn fans, who were not amused.
Steve Green had seen it all before. The hand gestures. The histrionics. The nonstop conversation Marshall Henderson was having with himself.

“That was my favorite moment,” Hopkins said, “just because of how he made 10 frat boys from South Alabama want to kill him.”

Players who feed off the crowd are nothing new, of course. Reggie Miller, the Hall of Fame guard who spent his 18-year N.B.A. career with the Indiana Pacers, was known for interacting with opposing fans, including the filmmaker Spike Lee. Miller said he approached road games as if they were “12 versus everyone.”

“Marshall definitely has that chip on his shoulder,” said Miller, a Turner Sports analyst. “But there’s also a difference between having moxie and having a chip on your shoulder. He has a chip. And that kind of lets me know that he may not be all there.”

Kennedy has had to strike a delicate balance this season. Exactly how much freedom should he give Henderson?

“He cares more than you can imagine, and sometimes that crosses the line,” Kennedy said. “His passion comes from a good place.”

So does that mean Kennedy takes a hands-off approach? “Oh, no, no,” he said. “We have hands-on, 24/7. We don’t have enough hands, sometimes.”

Marshall Henderson cutting down the net
Last week, after an emotional win over Missouri in the SEC quarterfinals, Henderson was asked if he would be able to get charged up for the semifinals. He turned to Kennedy. “I got to remind him I’m crazy in the head,” Henderson said. “I can play another game right now. Let’s go.”

As a high-scoring forward at North Carolina State and Alabama-Birmingham, Kennedy was no wallflower himself.

Ron Artest
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Andy draws on his own playing days in saying, ‘Look, we’ve got a tremendous player who sometimes loses his mind, but it’s all good because the kid wants to win and we can handle the momentary bouts of insanity,’ ” said Fran Fraschilla, the ESPN analyst.

At St. John’s, Fraschilla had the unique responsibility of coaching an 18-year-old Ron Artest. Fraschilla would sometimes toss Artest from practice, just to motivate him that much more. Fraschilla knew he was dancing on the edge of a blade.

“You always had to send two assistants into the locker room after him — two of them — to make sure he didn’t rip the TV off the wall,” Fraschilla said. “Having said that, he was one of the most fun guys I ever coached.”

Henderson has had a similar effect at Ole Miss, though he has not destroyed any TVs. He merely dented a door with his fist after a loss at South Carolina.

To his teammates, it was just more of Marshall being Marshall, and they will take the good with the bad. After so many ups and downs, Ole Miss is once again dancing and chomping, shouting and shooting. Let the madness begin." The New York Times

No comments:

Post a Comment

"Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart."

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...