Every year, March rolls around and we immediately search for a sweetheart. We look for the Steph Curry’s, the Jimmer Fredette’s, the Kemba Walker’s. We soak up the surprise runs of teams like Butler, VCU, and Northern Iowa. We search for the scintillatingly sensational sentiment of a feel good story.
While that is all good and heart-warming, I present the yang to your feel-good yin: Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson.
The manipulative Marshall minces no words when it comes to his game. He’s the sharpshooter at the gym that you can’t stand. He could pull up from any spot on the court, with any man in his face, and still find a way to drain it. When you think your wound is big enough from the swish of the nylon, he pours a heap of salt on it with a taunt.
Obviously, opposing fans don’t take much of a liking to these antics. And normally, when they attack a player on the court, that player just tries to respond strictly with his play.
With Henderson, you got another thing coming.
As we saw at Auburn earlier in the year, and in the SEC tournament games against Missouri and Florida, Henderson will not hesitate to get right up into the front row of opposing fans and let them know about his success.
He flashes the crest of his school to every angry eye. His eyes widen as his sharp voice bellows obscenities of pride and resentment, while he mocks your school’s infamous chant. This is all fun to him, as much of a dismay as that may be to you.
I’m one of those who doesn’t take well to his methods. I cannot stand seeing him succeed on a court, especially after he led a comeback to knock out my Missouri Tigers.
You may try to convince yourself he’s better off the court, like this is only an in-game persona.
Again. You’re wrong.
As I walked back to the media room at Bridgestone Arena during the latter half of the Florida-Alabama semifinal in the SEC Tournament, I had to stop due to Ole Miss walking by to their locker room. I paused and looked for Nashville’s newest nemesis.
Henderson strolled by with a smirk on his face, wearing his white Dr. Dre Beats, rolling his head around to the vibe of his tunes. It reminded me of watching a cobra slither around right before he strikes. He knows he’s the bad guy; and he loves it.
Naturally, I told myself the bad guy was going to burn out to a feel-good story. Ole Miss was about to take on the hometown Vanderbilt Commodores, who were making their own surprise run in this conference tournament. More desperate than Ole Miss, Vandy needed to win this tournament to get an NCAA bid.
When the Commodores were up by double digits, and had their home crowd enjoying Henderson’s struggling jumper, I was feeling confident he might not succeed. But like everyone else, when I doubted the villain, he came back and bit me.
Henderson rained jumpers from every body position imaginable, as he and the Rebels stormed back to comfortably win. After one long ball, he stuck his hand to his head, making a three-point shark, as he laughed down the court.
From that point on, I accepted a couple truths. First, there was no way Ole Miss was losing this momentum to Florida. Second, I may hate this guy more than any basketball player in recent memory. But lastly, and most importantly:
Henderson will only add more chaos to what will be an already chaotic tournament.
When you watch the Rebels, the cameras will be all over him. If they’re struggling, the first thing you’ll say is, “Man, I want to see that little punk Henderson’s face.” When they’re hot, you’ll say, “Don’t let me see his damn smirk.”
You’ll anxiously await his post-game comments, if his coach even lets him talk to reporters. You’ll try to gather up as much anti-Henderson ammunition as possible. You might even easily count him out if he ever looks down.
But I caution you: never doubt this kid.
His team was as bubblicious as any other team in the country entering conference tournament week. They faced double-digit deficits multiple times during that week, yet still found a way to take a title and automatic bid home.
So while we all desperately want Otto Porter, Trey Burke, or any star to be our hero, we conveniently forget the most compelling part of our best stories:
Every fairy tale needs a villain. In Marshall Henderson, you may have your best one yet.