One on one with Gerald Henderson

We sit down with the former Blue Devil to discuss a wide range of topics including his NBA decision, if he ever wonders about what might have been in 2010, and just what Coach K drew up for that memorable dunk at Maryland.

To start the interview off, I wanted to ask your thoughts on how playing at Duke prepared you to be a professional athlete?

Gerald Henderson: In so many ways to be honest. I think the biggest way was just really working on my game, when you are at Duke and in the program, you put in a lot of work. Coach K is a guy who pays a lot of attention to detail and he’s going to get McDonald’s All Americans in there every year, he’s going to get the best players, but he also gets the best character guys who like to work on their games and improve. At the NBA level, for half of the year or so it is entirely up to you to work on your game, work on improving and I think it was at Duke for me where I really learned how to put in that serious level of work to improve on my game.

Speaking of working on your game—has your approach to that evolved a lot or stayed the same from when you first entered the NBA to now?

It’s stayed the same. I think when you are a pro, it’s all up to you to improve. You don’t have your college coaches in your ears all the time or the college schedule to keep up with workouts you have to be at, both in season and out of season. You have to be really committed in the pros to getting better off your own decisions, so if anything I think I’ve gotten better in terms of my approach to the game and working on it and I think a lot of guys would say that because you really have to have that commitment and work ethic to work on your skills and your craft.

Who has played the biggest role you would say in your development as a player in the pros?

I would probably say my father first just because he played in the league for 13 years and all my life he’s been there to help me grow in my game. I would definitely say that Chris Carrawell also who played at Duke and was an assistant at Duke when I was there my last year at Duke, he’s at Marquette now. He was always there my last year at Duke, we would work out together after every practice for at least 30-45 minutes, working on my skills and he was one who helped me get ready for the Draft. Every summer since then we’ve just gotten in the gym together and just worked and then this summer which was funny, Jon Scheyer actually worked me out a lot when I was on campus at Duke, my best friend when I was there, we got in the gym some and he helped me work on some stuff as well.

What was it about Chris Carrawell that kept you wanting to go back with him year to year to keep working on your game together?

Chris is a guy who really knows the game, he loves the game and he really pays attention to all players, especially in the NBA. He’s got some really good drills and ideas about scoring the basketball. He was a good player himself and he knows a lot about the game as well. He’s worked with several other players as well in the D-League and he’s worked with the Brooklyn Nets as well, so he’s very familiar with the NBA game.

Part of your development as a player has been having to deal with some injuries in the pros…how have you navigated through those processes as you worked to get back on the court? What really helped you through those?

Injuries are always tough man. I’ve played in the league, this is my sixth year now, and I haven’t had to miss a full season yet…knock on wood with that. You miss time and the thing that helps you get back is the NBA is a league where injuries happen quickly and it happens to anybody and the game keeps going on and teams still want to win, it’s a winning league and teams are always trying to improve so if somebody is out of a spot, there’s always somebody waiting on most teams to replace you. Just knowing that, it drives you because you want to keep your spot, you want to stay in the league and do all these things with your career so you can’t do any of that when you are hurt. I keep that in mind always when I’m rehabbing or working out and even in the summertime, it’s very easy to not work as hard or take it easy but there’s always going to be guys coming up to take your spot so you have to keep your focus.

Looking forward to the rest of your career as a player and beyond, what’s your hoped for vision with that?

You know I’ve actually been doing a lot of thinking with that more recently. It’s tough to say right now, I’m brainstorming a little bit right now about some things I may be interested in doing after basketball and I did go back and earn my degree from Duke this past summer in Psychology. I don’t know if I want to be a psychologist, maybe Sports Psychology could be a thing for me and using that degree. I feel like I would be good at maybe front office type stuff or maybe even broadcasting. I’m definitely interested in a lot of different things.

What was it for you that sparked your interest in returning to Duke and completing your degree?

For me it was a couple of things. For starters I was so close to my degree when I left Duke and I only had 5 classes to take. To do it I knew it wouldn’t take more than two summer sessions and I figured that I had gone to school pretty much my whole life, so the plan to graduate college-I just figured why not since I was so close. Plus I also promised my mom and my dad that I would go back to school and finish when I left early. Also just for me, having a Duke degree is a big deal because not everyone gets a chance to do that and play basketball at the highest level in college so it was a pretty special thing for me to have and it’ll be something really helpful for me to have in the future when I’m done playing.

Are you going to be doing the cap and gown graduation…the whole deal in May?

You know honestly I’d like to walk but hopefully I don’t because if I don’t, that will mean we are hopefully still in the playoffs. If it doesn’t end up like that, there’s a good chance I may end up at the graduation ceremonies, we will see there. I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can take this with this team though.

For you personally what does it mean to you to have earned that degree?

It actually felt way better than I even thought it would to finally have it and finally get it done. When I finished my last class, it’s not anything that anybody can take from you, it’s something you’ve earned. I really had to be in class and I found I had to work harder when I went back even from when I was in school while playing at Duke just because I wanted to make sure that I got it done because I didn’t want to sit in class anymore (haha).

I know it’s a little ways back—but what was the process like for you as you were deciding to leave early from Duke?

I think just basketball wise I was ready more than anything. I had talked with my parents, especially my dad about leaving the whole time you are in college because it’s just something that I really wanted to do was be a pro, that’s something that every kid wants to do and is something you talk about. For me I was just ready to go, I was coming off a really good season at Duke and I wanted to be a pro. I loved my time at Duke but my ultimate goal was to play at the highest level and I had the opportunity to do it and a chance to be a lottery pick. For me it was the right time.

I’m sure there’s that sense of “what-if” for some guys who choose to leave college early…has that ever been a thought you’ve dealt with?

I wanted to go you know? I had some great coaches and great teammates and I went to a great school and my time at Duke was great but like I said, I wanted to be a player in the NBA and I wanted to play against the best players in the world in the NBA. People always ask me about the team right after I left that won the whole thing, and do I wish I had stayed or what-not. It would have been great to have won while I was there and we had ample opportunity to do that even when I was there, even my last year we had a really great team, we were number one in the country, but we just didn’t it get done. If I had been on that team that won, who knows if we would have won it all or not, I’m just happy for those guys that did win it.

You were a big part of the recruiting class that came in with Lance and Brian and Jon that ultimately built to winning the national championship—what did it mean to you to be a part of that foundation that ultimately brought Duke’s most recent national championship back to Durham?

It was a great feeling because I have great relationships with those guys, especially Jon and Nolan. Nolan I’ve known for my whole life and Jon has been one of my best friends since I got to school. I’m just happy for them, those guys earned that and they put the work in and they made it to the Final 4 and then beat a great team in Butler. For me, it felt great, I remember when those guys came into the hotel after the game and they had won, Wojo came up to me and he said, “you helped do this, you helped put us here.” That’s enough for me, hearing that and knowing that these guys did it themselves but also all Duke players, all the guys that had been there, I had a part in that which was a great feeling.

How has the relationship grown between you and Jon and Nolan from being teammates to now?

With Nolan, it’s even further because we’ve known each other since we were little since both of our dads played in the league and our moms, they’ve been friends since the 80s. We always used to be around each other during stuff like All Star Weekend and stuff like that. When Nolan decided to come to Duke, we kinda reconnected during the summer playing AAU against each other and then at Duke he was obviously like a brother to me. Now he’s playing in the D-League and trying to make his way back into the league and I think he will because he’s a great talent and I talk to him often.

With Jon obviously he’s retired now and he’s moved into making a career for himself being a Duke coach. It’s great for him being able to step right into an assistant coaching position and do something that he really wants to be good at. He will be a good head coach one day, he’s got the demeanor for it, he’s got the intelligence and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens with his career. I talk with him almost every single day, either on the phone or through text.

Looking back—what was your most memorable experiences with Jon and Nolan at Duke since you were so close with them?

I’d probably say winning the ACC Championship back in 09, we had a really good team and the ACC Tournament, that was probably the first really big tournament we won together, I mean we won Maui back in 08 but I think the ACC Tournament, for me at that point was the biggest one.

Switching gears Gerald—how have you seen your relationship grow over the years with Coach K from being recruited by him in high school to now?

It’s grown immensely. Coach K has done so much for my career in helping me be the player I am today. Coming from being a kid as a freshman to helping me become the best player on our team. When I left, even to this day in talking with him on the phone or we might cross paths or when I come to a game or when I’m there in the summertime, when we talk it’s obvious that he’s paying attention to everything. He and the staff watches all of my games as I watch their games, so he always knows what’s going on with me in my life and in my game and he always has great advice. He has a different perspective on things than most people do and it’s always great to talk to him, he’s become a great friend of mine.

In keeping up with the teams since you left Duke—which players or teams have you really enjoyed watching since your time at Duke ?

I love their team, I really love their team. I was there this summer with the guys while I was working on my degree, so I spent a lot of time with the current team and being around them. They have a great group of guys who really like working hard and they are very talented. I would say they definitely have a great freshman class and I’ve been really impressed with Quinn this year with the way he’s been able to hold his own and the way he’s been able to lead that team and use his leadership to keep them undefeated so far. Obviously things are going to be heating up pretty soon for them, but they have played great. At Wisconsin I thought Quinn played a great game, Tyus played a great game. I didn’t watch the most recent game, but they have started out well. With Jahlil, and Justise as well, they just have a talented group and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to come with them.

What kind of influence or example did you try to set when you were around the team this summer?

Just hard work, you know? I know when I was at school and guys used to come back, I remember guys like JJ and just seeing him be in the gym the whole time working on his game. I tried to do stuff like always being there before they started working out so that they would see me and always know that to be a pro, you have to always continue to work harder. I’ll tell you what though, those kids, they work harder than I ever worked this past summer. They had a grueling summer coming off a first round loss in the NCAA’s so there wasn’t any playing around this summer. I tried to jump into their workouts with them and I also tried to do my own stuff as well. They had a tough summer but a great summer and they are reaping the benefits right now.

Moving towards wrapping up Gerald, do you have any favorite moments of playing in front of the Cameron Crazies?

I think the best game that I had at Duke was against Wake Forest during my last year there. We beat them, high scoring game with me and Jon both scoring basically in the 30s I think, I had 35 and he had 30, just so you know (haha). They had a very talented team and just the energy in the building that night was something else. It was a game being played at an ACC Championship level game and we ended up winning. There was a lot of energy in the building that night, Crazies were great.

I’m sure the Crazies also fondly remember your dunk at Maryland your junior year—what do you remember about that dunk, that game and that day?

Well, it just goes to show you the relationship that me and Nolan have because the dunk was pretty cool but what happened the play before with the kid for Maryland, don’t remember his name off the top my head, but he set a full court screen on Nolan and he knocked him out of the game. He had a concussion for a couple of weeks and Nolan is like a brother to me so I was just real upset and I remember coming to the huddle and I remember Coach K saying, “alright guys, we’re gonna run this play called “corner” and Gerald, you go down the middle and just dunk all over him.” So I went out and I just did it. That was pretty cool.

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