The Marshall plan served Ole Miss well in 2012-13. With JUCO transfer Marshall Henderson leading the way, Ole Miss upset Florida for the Southeastern Conference Tournament title, clinching its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002 and saving coach Andy Kennedy’s job.
But in the process, the 6-foot-2 guard became a lightning-rod for his crowd-baiting antics. There was the jersey-tug toward the Auburn crowd that incited a near-riot, a Gator Chomp toward UF fans following a clutch second-half 3-pointer during the SEC Tournament title game, and finally, a middle-finger salute to the crowd in Kansas City following Ole Miss’ loss to LaSalle in the NCAA Tournament.
Henderson also called SEC coaches “a bunch of idiots” for not voting him as league MVP after he led the league in scoring at 20.1 points per game.
Shortly after the season ended, Henderson announced he would return for his senior year and wrote a letter of apology to Ole Miss fans. “The spotlight on the court means my actions affect more than just me, and I need to show my teammates that I can be a leader for this team,” Henderson wrote. “I play the game with a lot of passion, and sometimes that passion boils over. I take responsibility for my actions this season and apologize to anyone I offended. However, my edge on the court has made me the player that I am. I can’t change that, but I do understand that I can take things too far.
“I have come to understand this year that I represent this team and this university, and I have to hold myself to a higher standard than people in the stands, because I am a student-athlete at Ole Miss.”
Kennedy said that Henderson wrote the letter because he wanted to make amends for what happened following the NCAA Tournament loss.
“Some of the emotional things that we’ve always talked to him about, passion is good, emotion is sometimes not so good and at times, his goes from one lane into another,” Kennedy said. “I just think he really appreciates his opportunity. He loves college basketball. He’s the son of a coach. He appreciates the opportunity that Ole Miss has given him. He’s an integral part of student life here on campus and he’s a passionate guy. I think he just wanted to reach out and let the Rebel nation know he regrets some of the things that he’s done, but that he does them based on his competitive nature.”
Kennedy said he thinks that Henderson is capable of backing up his words.
“I’ve always said that you typically always see the greatest improvements between year one and year two as a player whether that’s a freshman to a sophomore or a junior to a senior,” Kennedy said. “And that’s just based on experience. I think what Marshall went through last year from a basketball standpoint he’s learned from and from dealing with the media and dealing with the opposing fans and controlling his emotions, that’s all part of maturation of young people. I don’t have any doubt that Marshall will have learned from his experiences of last year.”
Of course, every league needs a villain. Just ask former Gators Joakim Noah and Matt Walsh. Noah took heat from opposing SEC fans for his chest thumping, while Walsh for dating a Playboy Playmate. But Henderson’s antics were a little more over the top, and will likely be watched more closely this upcoming season.
On the court, Kennedy said Henderson is working on his upper body strength and ballhandling. Due to injuries, Kennedy said that Henderson is playing some minutes at point guard during summer workouts.
“It’s the first full summer he’s been with us, so he’s really put a lot of time and energy into building his body, trying to get stronger,” Kennedy said. “He’s 6-2 and he’s around 170 pounds, I’m not sure our goal is to get him to 180 but I do think our goal is to get him stronger and be able to withstand some of the physical things that he has to endure throughout the course of the long season.”