“You gotta trust people closest to you. Even if you have a problem, you’ve got to go to the people you trust the most, even though those are the hardest people to talk to: your family, your good friends. Those are the people you have to go to because those are the people that will help you out, even if it’s tough discipline. Those are the people that really want you to succeed the most.” — Marshall Henderson, March 2013
All I really know about Marshall Henderson comes from TV, from scattered feature stories and from four days spent at the Sprint Center in Kansas City during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in March. I don’t really know how deep his personal problems go. I don’t know how deep his relationship with Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is.
What I do know is that I want to like Marshall Henderson, both on the court and off it. In a sport bogged down by slow play and controlling coaches, a sport desperate for a little bit of panache, Henderson was a revelation last season. He had no conscience as a shooter, a green light for 40 minutes, every game. He made Ole Miss a tournament team and maybe saved the job of Kennedy, who committed to taking a chance on him despite his checkered past and now has a bigger contract to show for it. And, yes, he provided memorable animated GIFs. He was fun, and this is what we’re supposed to want when we watch sports — although, yes, he took things too far on several occasions.
In person, off the court in the press room or the locker room, he was likeable. He answered any and all questions without a filter. He seemed genuine when talking about changing his life and capitalizing on his second chance to finish his education, even if he also admitted to trying to take the easiest path. He is, unmistakably, a study in contradictions, one that breeds very strong opinions.
“I’ll take whatever, as long as I’m on the front page somewhere — well I take that back,” he said in March. “I don’t want to be on the front page of some things. I think those days are over.”
Well, maybe not.
So, when it was announced on Wednesday that he was suspended indefinitely, and when CBSSports.com soon reported it was for failed drug tests, and when on Thursday the Wall Street Journal reported that police said Henderson was found with what appeared to be small amounts of cocaine and marijuana in his car in May, naturally the floodgates of opinion opened up. Maybe it’s He doesn’t get it. Cut him loose. End the charade. Or maybe it’s simply #FreeMarshall.
This isn’t simply a case of a 22-year-old having no perspective and shirking responsibility, although it’s partially, maybe mostly, that. But clearly, Henderson has had a problem, and he continues to have that problem. Simply casting him off from Ole Miss basketball would be the biggest mistake of all, especially for Kennedy. Maybe Henderson won’t play basketball for the Rebels again, but regardless of what his on-court future is, after riding him to success last year, it is the responsibility of Ole Miss to stay connected to him and try to keep him on track, to help him take his own advice and achieve what he says he wants to achieve, something that obviously involves greater focus and discipline than the long leash he was granted last year.
“I just have a goal in mind to make money playing basketball,” he said in the Ole Miss locker room on an off day at the NCAA tournament, “and then I honestly, deep down in my heart, what I want to do is I want to open an addiction and rehab center, because I’ve obviously been through some things, and I now realize that I’m probably the only person — well, I don’t know of many people that have been through what I’ve been through — that can still get a college degree. Obviously, I have to thank basketball for that.”
He did have basketball to thank for that, and whatever Kennedy’s motives were in attaching himself to Henderson as a reclamation project are up for debate. This is the path he choose, though, and this is the path Henderson chose, and now it’s unclear whether Henderson will have basketball to pave the way for what he claims he wants to do. Even if he rejoins the Ole Miss team, he’ll be a questionable commodity in the eyes of professional leagues, wherever he was going to end up (probably Europe, not the NBA).
So, four months from what’s supposed to be his senior season, to say he’s at a crossroads would be an understatement.
“… Someone asked me if there was one thing I wanted people to know, I really want to help people,” Henderson said in March. “That’s a place being I guess this figure kind of now, I can use that to my advantage to help people that have been down the road that I’ve been down before. I can be qualified with a degree and hopefully have the money playing basketball to be able to start something up.”
But to help others he needs to help himself, and helping himself requires reining himself in, with the help of the Ole Miss program that took him in.
Henderson isn’t a bad guy, although he plays the role of basketball villain well. We can joke about his antics, and whether or not he should quit basketball and become a professional wrestler, and Henderson himself would probably approve of that attention. But we had our fun, and so did he. The selfish sports fan simply wants to see him on the basketball court; the human should want Ole Miss basketball to embrace him without enabling him, to help him start taking himself seriously.