Marshall Henderson, like him or not, has become the face of the NCAA Tournament.
Henderson does the Gator chomp in front of the Florida faithful during Sunday's SEC title game.
He will remain so, at least until approximately 2 p.m. Friday when Ole Miss will be finishing up its opening game of the Big Dance against Wisconsin. The already nationwide stage he currently stands on will expand exponentially if the Rebels beat the Badgers and are still playing basketball on Sunday in Kansas City.
He has been called flamboyant, polarizing, flashy, agitating, heroic, tacky, delightful and even delightfully tacky. At times those adjectives have probably all been used correctly in describing Henderson’s play and antics. On the court, he is effectively frenetic with a knack for making giant-sized plays followed by even bigger outbursts of emotion.
On Sunday, he Gator-chomped for the Florida fans in the waning minutes of the SEC title game. Earlier this season at Auburn, he rushed to the front of the Tigers’ student section taunting the home fans after an Ole Miss win.
Henderson rationalized, if they can taunt him throughout a game, he can certainly give it back.
At Tennessee, he reportedly told the Volunteers’ bench that he was going to score 30 on them. He lied. He scored 32.
He even tossed ice into the crowd at Oxford on one occasion this season in a moment of frustration.
Like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Henderson has become the hunted on Social Media. He tweets regularly (@native flash22), and as this article was being written, he was nearing 30,000 Twitter followers. In Oxford, Mississippi, only Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze is known to have more.
Henderson’s tweets are, at the very least, amusing, and often entertaining. After winning the SEC championship, he appeared in a social media photo handcuffed, smiling ear-to-ear, along with the officer, in the staged photograph. Posts such as that one have given birth to a “best of Marshall Henderson tweets” feature on one website.
Henderson skips onto the floor during pre-game introductions Sunday at the SEC championship game.
Henderson has said he sometimes sort of blacks out, goes unconscious, if you will, when he hits a big shot at a critical moment of the game. Such was the case when he sank a 3-pointer from 35 feet out to send a regular-season game into overtime at Vanderbilt earlier this year.
“I always tell myself before every game ‘this is going to be the game that I’m focused.’ But it never happens,” Henderson said, following the Rebels’ SEC semifinal win over Vanderbilt.
Outspoken, he spoke his mind at the SEC Tournament. No one expects a canned response from Henderson.
“That’s just who I am. It just happens. People come up all the time wanting to ask me different things. I like to wear my hat or hoodie with some shades…I’m trying to make a name for myself so I can go get some money,” he said.
Good or bad, he has made a name for himself.
This week alone, his name has appeared in print in the New York Times, The New Yorker magazine, the USA Today, plus many, many newspapers from coast to coast. The television mentions have been just too numerous to count, and those will only increase as Friday’s tip-off nears.
The first question Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy fielded from a Kansas City reporter on Sunday evening was, of course, about Henderson. It has become big news when Marshall Henderson rolls into your town.
Henderson fires up a 3-point shot Sunday versus Florida in Nashville, Tenn.
It certainly wasn’t the first time Kennedy had fielded a question about his superstar. Kennedy obliged the reporter.
“He’s an exciting player…one of the most exciting in college basketball. I think, sometimes, and what I try to impress upon him, is that passion is good, emotion is bad. His passion comes from a good place. He loves to play. He’s excited about this. He’s got a very strong will,” Kennedy related.
“I don’t want some of the things to take away from the fact that he is a very good basketball player. He’s the MVP of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. He’s a guy that led the SEC in scoring…He’s a kid that plays with a lot of emotion and sometimes that gets a little misguided and he gets caught up on other things. For the most part, I’ve been very proud of the way he’s matured throughout the course of the season.”
And mature Henderson has, at least by the on-the-court evidence. If he ever was, he’s no longer just a wild-shooting, semi-automatic rifleman effective only from beyond the arc. Henderson has become a dangerous passer with an instinct to find the slightest of openings. He can also drive to the hole with effectiveness. From the foul line, he is deadly accurate. On the defensive end of the court, he is often a frenetic mess of energy intent on disrupting his opponent’s offense.
And the fact is that on-the-court talent wouldn’t get nearly as much notice if not for Marshall Henderson’s spirited demeanor. And vice-versa. The two aspects of his game seem to feed off each other.
Some love it. Some hate it.
One thing, however, is for sure: Absolutely no one is ignoring it.
As country singer Willie Nelson once crooned about the proverbial cowboy: “Them that don’t know him won’t like him, and them that do, sometimes won’t know how to take him. He ain’t wrong, he’s just different.”
Marshall Henderson celebrates Ole Miss' SEC title on Sunday in Nashville. Photos by Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics
That’s different in a good kind of way, if you’re an Ole Miss fan.
Welcome to the show Marshall. Or maybe it should be the other way around.
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