Show on the Road

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Marshall Henderson stood in the middle of the room, headphones on, blaring music. He was signing along.

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Behind him was a swarm of media, some 75, eager to ask him questions, to record his every word. Here he was, the polarizing Henderson, finally on the big stage. Ole Miss is in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.

He sat down and looked up. "What up, y'all," he said, but he wouldn't be the quote machine he's typically been. Henderson, at least on this day, was done talking. The No. 12 seed Rebels (26-8) face No. 5 seed Wisconsin (23-11) at 11:40 a.m. on Friday.

"I wish we were about to go out there and play right now," he said. "I'm ready to go right now.

"When (Ole Miss head) Coach (Andy) Kennedy was recruiting me, he told me if I come here, we're going to make the NCAA tournament. We did, but with the way we see the bracket sets up, we've got a nice setup if we're trying to make a run here."

The questions were predictable.

He was asked of his prolific scoring ability, as well as his non-traditional, non-scoring antics. Because Henderson, who led the SEC in scoring this season, has become known as much for his flamboyance as his 3-point stroke.

"He gives us a lot of energy with all the things he does," guard Nick Williams said. "Once he hits that one big 3, we feel a jolt of energy. It's great for us, man. He's a great guy. He brings a lot of things to the table. We're happy to have him."

Henderson admitted he sometimes reads the stories written about him. "Sometimes my friends make me read it." There's an ongoing debate about the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Henderson, whether he's good or bad for college basketball.

Marshall Henderson
USA TODAY images

One reporter asked if Henderson's antics - the jersey popping, trash talking and landsharking - were calculated. "I don't know," he said. "I'm not really good at math." Another asked if he relishes playing the villain. "I don't really have a choice, do I?"

He made a good point. In a way, he's been made into the heel, the CM Punk, of his sport. And the heel has made his way to this, the biggest stage, the WrestleMania of college basketball.

His teammates, as well as his head coach, are happy to have him. Warts and all.

"It's like watching NASCAR, waiting for the wreck," 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. It comes from a real place. It comes from a love of the game. He's a tremendous player, a tremendous teammate."

He has a supporter in senior forward Murphy Holloway, one of the most accomplished players to ever come through Ole Miss.

Holloway, who ranks first in school history with 1,071 career rebounds and second with 38 double-doubles, was drawn to Henderson the minute the transfer from South Plains Community College stepped foot on campus.

"Like a black guy, a little bit," Holloway said of his initial impression of Henderson. "Just swagger, man. It's his swagger, man. He doesn't care what anyone thinks of him. He's going to be him."

What he's been is one of the most dynamic players in the country.

Henderson averages 20.1 points per game, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists. He's making 38.5 percent of his shots, including 35.7 percent from 3. He recently passed Chris Warren for the Ole Miss single-season 3-point field goal record with 131 3s on the year.

He ranks third in the nation, averaging 3.9 made 3-pointers per game.

"He's capable of making any shot," Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren, who is averaging 11.1 points per game and 6.9 rebounds, said. "Our shot selection is going to be a little different, just the way we move the ball and play as a team.

Marshall Henderson
USA TODAY images

"As far as the other stuff, he's a guy that plays with a lot of energy and passion. His team really feeds off of it. That's fine, but we kind of do things our own way."

Henderson's abilities were on display in Nashville, Tenn., last weekend, when he led Ole Miss to an SEC tournament championship. He was named tournament MVP after scoring 71 points in three wins over Missouri, Vanderbilt and Florida.

"We're looking to come out here and play as a team, do what's best for each other," Badger forward Ryan Evan said. "I'm not going to go out there and act and just talk crazy or anything. That's not me.

"There's different people that do stuff like that. Whatever they feed off of, that's a great thing. It's obviously been getting them wins, but that's not me and that's not our team."

But that's Marshall Henderson and he's taken his show to Kansas City, though he's singing a different, softer tune.

"I think his passion comes from a good place," Kennedy said. "The people around him understand and accept him for what he is."

"You'll hear me say 100 times tomorrow ‘Stay focused. Just stay focused. Don't get carried away with what's happening in the crowd or a perceived missed call here or there. Stay locked in and help us.' I'm confident he'll do so."

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