Polarizing collegiate sports figures are nothing new. From Brian Bosworth to JJ Redick to Johnny Manziel, guys that attract adoration along with hatred are a favorite pastime of collegiate sports fans. Because of it’s nature as more of an individual-focused sport, college basketball is prone to having some of the most divisive players in sports. While the distinction of “Most Hated College Basketball Player” has been given to Grayson Allen ever since people realized he looked like Ted Cruz, just before he came along, someone else held that title and was arguably much more inflammatory.
That man was Marshall Henderson.
Remember Henderson, the skinny, buzz-cut-sporting guard from Ole Miss that managed to piss off every single opposing fan in the SEC?
You know, the guy who called SEC coaches “haters” and “losers” after winning the SEC Tournament (bless this man) –
Despite leading the Rebel basketball teams to a conference title and becoming the most polarizing figure in college basketball, the former SEC Tournament MVP has seemingly fallen off the map. So that begs the question: What ever happened to Marshall Henderson?
Henderson was born in a football state, but basketball was his sport. He was a standout guard at Bell High School, a large public school near Dallas, and his performance garnered D1 offers from all over the country. He ultimately settled on the Utah Utes where, despite being a freshman, he was second on the team in points-per-game. Henderson transferred to South Plains Junior College (due to off the court issues we’ll get to later). While there, he garnered All-American honors and led the school to the NJCAA National Championship and his play led to the then-junior to accept an offer to play for Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss.
If you ask any Ole Miss fan what sport they care about most, they will undoubtedly say football. After all, Mississippi is a southern state whose biggest public colleges play in the SEC, where the pigskin is king. To quote one unkown fan from the very first ‘SEC Storied’ episode: “Those Yankees in Kentucky and up north love basketball. This here is football country”.
But for a brief time in 2013, while Hugh Freeze was slowly building the Ole Miss football program between calls to hookers (duffel bag by duffel bag), the Ole Miss basketball team was in the midst of a remarkable run. Led by Henderson, who was averaging 20.1 points per game, the Rebels had a solid regular season that included moments like this one against Vanderbilt:
The junior became well-known for his crazy shots, ridiculous celebrations, and crowd taunts, which most famously occurred against Auburn.
By the end of the regular season, Mississippi had become the talk of SEC basketball.
They entered the SEC Tournament on the Big Dance Bubble and proceeded to win three straight games to earn an automatic berth. Entering the tournament as a 12-seed, Mississippi upset the 5-seeded Wisconsin Badgers behind a stellar performance from Henderson. In the second round, the Rebels fell to La Salle despite a 21-point performance from a now-famous Marshall Henderson.
Expectations were high for the 2013-2014 season, where Henderson, now a senior, was a Naismith Award candidate going into the season. Despite a year where he averaged 19 points a game and was one of the top players in the SEC for the second straight season, Ole Miss failed to make the NCAA Tournament. His ‘Jimmer Fredette meets J.R Smith’ mentality (as I insist it is called) meant that Henderson would shoot from wherever on the court, whenever he wanted. While it did lead to a lot of points scored, it caused NBA scouts to not seriously consider drafting him.
This was partly due to his unorthodox style of play, as well as postgame antics that seemed to occur constantly (and were incredibly funny). But the NBA was scared of drafting the Ole Miss dynamo for more than just his on-court production. Henderson had been arrested several times in his early college years, including for possession of marijuana that he bought with counterfeit money (which is why he left Utah), and was actually jailed for violating his probation for that arrest in 2012. He tested positive for cocaine and marijuana again after his junior season at Ole Miss and was sent to rehab.
The drugs, partying, and on-court antics (which to be fair had been toned down his senior year) all made the NBA shun Henderson.
So where is the former Ole Miss star now?
The most polarizing figure of the last decade in the SEC has finally turned his life around. According to a Bleacher Report article last year, after meeting with several former substance abusers and attending rehab, Henderson has sobered up and even found God. “I got close with some people with the church and my family, and they told me I needed to get back to how I was raised and my values and morals with God,” he told Marc Spears writing for Yahoo! last year, “I did that, and things started to turn”. After bouncing around several foreign leagues, he signed with a team in Qatar and led them to the ‘Arab Club Championship’ while scoring 17 points a game. This led to Hendo being signed by a team in Iraq, Naft Al-Janoob (what a name), and led them to the top of the Iraqi Division 1 Basketball League.
In 2015, the Sacramento Kings took notice and took Henderson in for training camp. Although he was eventually cut, he got a spot in the G-League (then D-League) with the Reno Bighorns, where he averaged 6.8 points a game, along with two rebounds. Judging by this video, the man didn’t seem to have a lot of rust.
After being cut by Reno, Marshall signed with a team in Italy’s ‘C’ or ‘3rd Level’ level league, Pavia Basket. Although no recent stats were found, Henderson is still on the team’s listed roster. It might not be the happiest of endings, but at only 27 years of age, there is still time for the once prolific and antagonistic SEC player to make it back in the States.
And hopefully, it features more of this.
Next week in the ‘Where Are They Now’ series, I’ll take a look at former Kansas State quarterback and Heisman finalist Collin Klein, his career, and where he is now.
(This series was inspired by my boy Andy Jones’s series “Flashback Friday QB” that looks at star college quarterbacks from yesteryear, which you should definitely check out).