It’s an unorthodox story for an unorthodox guy. Not even Henderson saw this one coming.
“I really never thought I’d be here,” Henderson said with a grin. “… But it feels good.”
The 6-foot-2 junior was awarded the C Spire Howell Trophy on Monday at the Mississippi Sports Hall Fame. The award is given to the state’s top college basketball player. Henderson was selected by a panel of the state’s media over two other finalists — Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway and Southern Mississippi guard Dwayne Davis.
Mississippi State’s Martha Alwal won the Gillom Trophy, which is given to the state’s top women’s basketball player. The other two finalists were Southern Mississippi guard Jamierra Faulkner and Ole Miss guard Valencia McFarland.
Henderson, a Hurst, Texas, native, was one of the most polarizing and exciting players in the nation this season, leading the Southeastern Conference with 19.7 points per game thanks to a sweet 3-point stroke and fearless demeanor. He’s also known for his flamboyant theatrics and checkered past, which included multiple run-ins with the law.
But no matter whether people loved or hated Henderson, he almost always produced. Sometimes it was in spectacular fashion. He dumped 30-plus points on Tennessee twice this season, hit a nearly half-court shot against Vanderbilt to send a game into overtime and became a minor internet sensation after cameras caught him jawing with the Auburn student section following two crucial free throws in a victory.
Kennedy said Henderson’s stardom hasn’t been completely shocking, though the attention exceeded his expectations.
“I didn’t know it would get to this extreme,” Kennedy said. “But I knew (he would attract attention) simply because of the way he plays — very passionate, very flamboyant. His skill set is very different than most anyone else.”
Henderson has struggled at times during the season with his shot selection, but was at his best during Saturday’s win against LSU, finishing with 22 points, five assists and five steals. The Rebels have a 23-8 record and are the No. 3 seed in this week’s SEC tournament in Nashville.
As Henderson goes, so go the Rebels. Henderson is the first Howell Trophy winner in Ole Miss history.
“When my head’s on straight,” Henderson said. “I can be a really good basketball player.”
Alwal, a Worthington, Minn., native, averaged 12.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game this season. The 6-foot-4 sophomore improved as the season progressed and finished with 10 double-doubles in SEC play. After a rough start, the Bulldogs won five of their final 10 regular-season SEC games.
“She just works at it,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “We don’t allow her to have a day off. She’s learning and developing a work ethic. Her upside is a long way from where she is right now. She has a chance to be that good. She’s obviously talented and it helps to be her size. I think in two years, you’re going to see a completely different play than you see now.”
Alwal said Schaefer’s guidance helped her improve from last season, when she averaged 5.4 points and 7.2 rebounds.
“It took a while to get used to his system, but once we did we really started to trust him and each other,” Alwal said. “(Schaefer) never lets me settle. If I have 10 points and 12 rebounds, he’ll tell me there’s no reason I can’t have 20 and 20 if I really work at it.” (March 12, 2013, Page 7)