Marshall Henderson waved his arms, bounced up and down, patted a referee on the back, jawed with his opponents and their fans and talked to himself on the court.
And all of that came before the Ole Miss junior guard tied the game with a 35-foot shot at the buzzer, leading to an overtime victory at Vanderbilt last week.
He’s the leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference and the most entertaining, annoying, intriguing and uncontrollable personality in college basketball, none of which should surprise anyone who remembers him as a University of Utah freshman.
This is not necessarily a lament that Henderson is gone from here. Jim Boylen, the coach who recruited him to Utah, may have saved his job if Henderson had stuck around after the 2009-10 season, but he also may have lost his mind. Current coach Larry Krystkowiak’s rebuilding work is progressing nicely with — how can I say this? — normal people in his program.
But this guy is ridiculously fun to watch — and hear, as evidenced by how Henderson explained his frenetic approach to OMspirit.com: “If I come out dead, I’m highly ineffective.”
So forgive me in hoping for the 1-in-8 chance that the Rebels are assigned to EnergySolutions Arena for the NCAA Tournament in March. Henderson is something to see. Just try looking away whenever Mississippi is on TV, including Thursday’s game vs. Tennessee.
“He doesn’t seem to have changed, man,” said former Ute teammate Jason Washburn, in what’s mostly an endorsement. “The kid’s still full of energy and knocking down jump shots.”
He’s certainly shooting a bunch of them, while hitting 39 percent, which is part of the package that you have to accept. There’s also the demeanor that evoked the warning label of “emotionally intoxicated” from an ESPN analyst, the same trait that resulted in Henderson’s slapping BYU’s Jackson Emery as a Ute freshman and having Boylen suspend him for a game.
The tradeoff is an 18.9-point scoring average and a much-needed jolt into an Ole Miss program that’s 4-0 in the SEC for the first time in 76 years and is ranked No. 23 this week at 15-2 overall. Since leaving Utah, Henderson has attended three schools, counting a redshirt year at Texas Tech. He’s also played in 53 basketball games and won 51 of them, having gone unbeaten last season with a Texas junior college program. That’s why the Rebels are finding him irresistible, as opposed to irrational.
Coach Andy Kennedy hopes to corral him just enough, while giving him shooting freedom. Signs of his ability surfaced at Utah, where he averaged a team-high 13.6 points in Mountain West play for the Utes, who finished 14-17 overall. Henderson left the program soon afterward, saying it didn’t “fit with my individualism.”
Washburn liked Henderson, one of the dozens of former teammates he’s played with at Utah. As for his on-court antics, “Sometimes if he’ll let his energy go too much, he can let it get the best of him,” Washburn said, “but I think you’d rather have a player who’s really energetic and really uptempo than a guy who just has no heart and no motor whatsoever.”
Somewhere, there’s a compromise. Washburn is a good example. He once displayed the same level of unnecessary exuberance. “I’ve learned to channel it,” he said. “I used to be like Marshall. I used to hit the first shot and go screaming down the court. I’ve just learned to find a time and place for it, you know what I mean?”
Yeah, I do. Happily for Utah, Washburn has developed into a very mature, dependable player as a senior. But it’s probably OK to hope that never happens to Henderson.