FOR MOST OF my adult life, I have been in search of the next Pete Maravich, my boyhood sports idol. Not only Maravich’s 44-point career scoring average made him a star. There also was his moppy hair, floppy socks and — most of all — the panache to his game. He was the ultimate showman.
Johnny Neumann came close to being the “next Pete Maravich” when he played two seasons at Mississippi, including his sophomore year when he averaged 40 points per game. Decades later, Jason Williams displayed similar on-court flare at Florida before taking his game to the NBA.
Today, Ricky Rubio of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves probably comes closest to playing the role with his exceptional ball-handling and adept passing skills.
Then there is Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson, who brings his bombs-away, trash-talking, in-your-face arm-waving excitement to Colonial Life Arena. Showtime on Saturday starts at 4:30 p.m.
To paraphrase an old Neil Diamond song: “It’s Henderson, Brother Henderson, say Brother Henderson’s Traveling Salvation Show; Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes, ’cause everyone knows, Brother Henderson’s Show.”
They certainly know the Brother Henderson Show across the college basketball landscape after his SEC tournament MVP performance last March led Mississippi to the league championship. You probably do not recall Henderson’s 21 points in the title game victory against Florida, but you most certainly remember his mocking of the Gator chomp in the postgame celebration.
That is Henderson.
With his ability to drop a 3-pointer into the net from anywhere in the half court, you also get the kind of antics that rile opposing fans and even drive his coach, Andy Kennedy, crazy.
Henderson set an NCAA record with 394 attempts from 3-point land a season ago. He led the SEC in scoring with 20 points per game and currently ranks second in the league at 19.2. Amazingly enough, Henderson has attempted 150 shots from 3-point range this season, 41 inside the arc. He is shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers and 27 percent on standard field goals.
Mississippi puts tremendous pressure on opposing defenses by the way it runs Henderson through single and double screens as he swings back and forth along the baseline from one side of the court to the other.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” USC’s Frank Martin says. “He’s 19 points a game. If you’re half a step late, half a second late, it’s three in the basket.
“He’s an unbelievable competitor. I don’t think anyone gives him the credit he deserves, the competitor that he is. He elevates the players around him because of his competitiveness. I’ve got a lot of respect for what Marshall Henderson does as a player.”
Then there is the other stuff.
When it became obvious Mississippi was going to win at Tennessee a season ago, Henderson shouted to fans, “Don’t leave, I’m going to get 30!” They should have stuck around because Henderson fell two points shy.
After sinking a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer, Henderson sprinted around Memorial Gym at Vanderbilt in celebration. He also popped his jersey in the face of Auburn students after a win there and saluted fans with both of his middle fingers following an NCAA tournament loss to La Salle.
That was just on the court.
While in high school, Henderson attempted to purchase $800 worth of marijuana with counterfeit money. When he violated his probation and failed to complete community service, Henderson spent 25 days in jail.
Henderson then played one season at Utah, transferred to Texas Tech where he never played a game, led South Plains (Texas) Junior College to the national JUCO championship, and landed at Mississippi.
During this past offseason, Henderson was nailed by law enforcement for possession of marijuana and cocaine. He was suspended for the season-opener against Troy and the first two SEC games against Auburn and Mississippi State.
In the 10 games between the suspensions, Henderson was on his best behavior. He attempted to portray himself as a quieter, more mature person and player. Then he was back to his old self on Wednesday against LSU.
“I was sitting there and thinking about it, watching those games,” Henderson told The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., after the game. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be calm.’ It’s hurting me, which is weird. I can’t do it anymore. I’m sorry. I’m going back to being me, because we need it.”
You surely can find most of Henderson’s antics on YouTube, including him being his old self against LSU, complete with his trademark “land shark” gesture. Or you can pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and witness the Brother Henderson Show for yourself Saturday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena.
He will be the one performing as the “next Pete Maravich.”