Mississippi junior Marshall Henderson has a habit of rubbing people the wrong way.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Ask Auburn fans, who Henderson riled into an angry mob with some postgame jersey popping atop the scorer’s table.
Or ask Florida fans, who rankled at Henderson’s mock Gator chomp during the SEC tournament championship game.
Two days earlier, several Mizzou players reportedly refused to shake Henderson’s hand after a quarterfinal loss in the SEC tourney, a game that featured another late meltdown by the Tigers and another leap onto the scorer’s table by Henderson.
Henderson even angrily launched ice that had been thrown onto the floor during a Rebels home game against Kentucky back into his own team’s student section.
Such antics have drawn attention and often derision, but Henderson is unapologetic.
“He’s been like that ever since he got on campus,” Rebels teammate Nick Williams said. “He’s brash. He says what he wants to say. He’s a nutcase, man, but he’s our nutcase and we love him.”
That love isn’t universal.
Henderson has more than 35,000 Twitter followers, but he’s also been vilified in some circles for perceived unsportsmanlike behavior — to the point that the SEC coaches left him off the all-conference first team despite the fact that he led the league in scoring at 20.1 points per game.
“It’s like watching NASCAR, waiting for the wreck,” Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said. “He’s going real fast — oops! — he didn’t wreck there, another turn. For us, it’s every day, man. It’s normal. His teammates accept it for what it is, because they know that it’s genuine.”
As intense as the spotlight has been on his antics at times, there’s no hint of locker-room unrest swirling around the Henderson, a Hurst, Texas, native and son of a basketball coach.
“It doesn’t rub us the wrong way at all,” freshman guard Derrick Millinghaus said. “We embrace it. We are the Rebels, so we live by that name.”
Henderson started his career at Utah before transferring to Texas Tech under former coach Pat Knight.
When Knight was fired, Henderson moved on as well. He spent his sophomore season in junior college at South Plains in Levelland, Texas, before finding a home in Oxford, Miss.
“The reason that I give him a lot of rope is because I know it comes from a good place,” Kennedy said. “He’s passionate. He respects the game. Sometimes, that gets misconstrued, but he does … and he’s been good for our group as it relates to bringing energy and bringing swag.”
For all the bravado, Henderson — whose only been hit with two technical fouls this season — usually backs it up with his game, as he did en route to MVP honors in leading the Rebels to the program’s second SEC tournament title and first since 1981.
“When we’re struggling, he comes down and makes a crazy shot,” Williams said. “We all can see that look in his eye and it gives us a jolt of energy. He’s great for our team and great for our chemistry. We love it … If he (stunk) it would be like, ‘Dude, you (stink), shut up,’ but he doesn’t (stink). He can go for 40 at any time, so we keep feeding him the ball.”
And feeding off him — both in terms of production and emotion.
“What people don’t understand, when we get to the game and people are there 30 minutes before the game talking trash to him, that helps us,” Williams said. “Please, keep doing it — please talk to Marshall and tell him he (stinks) or something. Please, I’m begging you. He goes out and gets 30 when that happens, so keep doing it.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.