There are two camps for Marshall Henderson.
Camp 1 hates Marshall Henderson because of his mouth, his ceaseless trash-talking and what appears to be absolute zero basketball IQ.
Camp 2 loves Marshall Henderson because of his mouth, his ceaseless trash-talking and a fearless attitude toward the game.
Put in me in Camp 2.
Long before Henderson did the impossible by making Ole Miss basketball relevant, he was doing a lot of the same things that have made him a national name in Oxford, Miss., at both Bowie and Hurst L.D. Bell. Taking 35-footers like a layup. Jawing at anybody with a face. Having a ball.
Today, he is the rarest of breeds as the college basketball star because not only can he score like a wild man but also because of his mouth and theatrics.
The other reason he has become such a national celebrity?
“I think one of the reasons people talk about it and are afraid to say is that he is white,” said Marshall’s dad, Willie, who coached him at Bowie and Bell. “If he wasn’t white, no one would say a thing.”
Amen and amen.
This year Willie has been fielding countless interview requests from The New York Times to CNN to USA Today. Some of it has to do with Marshall’s past, which includes some arrests and the fact that Ole Miss is his fourth college. The majority of the focus has been on Henderson’s considerable game and giant mouth.
As a white dude, Marshall Henderson is the minority circus act who challenges just about every stupid stereotype we’ve had about the white basketball player.
White dudes who ball are supposed to be the quiet, non-scholarship, overachieving, coach-on-the-floor, 90-percent free-throw shooters who respect their opponents.
Ever since he was a freshman at Bowie, Henderson has played with a fearless attitude, a big mouth and the innate belief that he belongs on any floor against any player in any surrounding.
Henderson’s game looks like it belongs more at Harlem’s famous Rucker Park than some gym in Bowie, Texas.
As a freshman, he scored 44 points with 17 rebounds in a holiday tournament loss against Dunbar.
“Supreme confidence,” said North Crowley coach Tommy Brakel, who coached against Henderson and for Henderson in an all-star game. “I remember one time we played him we made it a point to be physical. He came across a screen and got a cut above his eye and I thought he was out of the game. He came back from the injury and he just lights us up. It was the attitude of, ‘You are going to do that to me? Here is what I’m going to do to you.’”
Henderson was playing for Bell in a game at Dallas Jesuit. Before the game began the student body was on Henderson with chants of “Daddy’s Boy!” and some more words that began with the letter F.
Willie said to his assistant, “He’s fixing to go off.”
Marshall hit 10 3-pointers in the game. After every 3-pointer, he would turn and point to the Jesuit fans.
“At one point, he was saying to them, ‘I’m going to shoot it from right here’ and he would hit it,” Willie said. “By the second half, their fans were chanting, ‘We are Marshall!’”
If you have watched Henderson play for Ole Miss, you’ve seen examples of this.
He led the SEC in scoring at 20.1 points per game, and he leads the fictitious category of “People Irritated.”
There is a reason why a player who led the conference in scoring and led his team to its first NCAA appearance since 2002 was not selected first-team all-conference. People don’t like this guy because he makes so many people uncomfortable and, in the process, can be highly entertaining.
He says he does it because he is just having fun. That this is his way to have fun.
What people may not know is that he has always been this way.
“He drew big crowds,” said former Trinity coach Mike Smith, who coached against Henderson and is now an assistant principal at Bell. “We always had huge crowds for that game because people wanted to see him and his antics.
“He was so emotional and passionate. He never talked trash to me or our bench. He was never disrespectful. Never. He never hit a shot and turned around and said anything. I’ve seen guys do that. There were times when he would cross the line in how he would react, but I do believe it was out of competitiveness.”
Leading up to Friday’s Ole Miss game against Wisconsin, Henderson was asked if he worried about rubbing his teammates the wrong way.
“I think I probably should have worried about that at the beginning of the season,” he said.
Then he was asked if some of his wild behavior was calculated.
“I guess,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m not really good at math.”
Because Henderson is a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, he should be expected to return to Ole Miss for his senior season. Six-foot-2 shooting guards don’t have much of a shelf life in the NBA.
Until that day comes, however, we’re all better off enjoying Henderson as he challenges both opponents and stereotypes.