Growing up in Marietta, Georgia, Sterling "Scoot" Henderson would always see his family training.
The patriarch of the “Henderson Seven” basketball family, his father, Chris, would push all of Scoot’s older siblings to be their best at the local park. Eager to join them and learn, Scoot would jump in, wearing ankle weights that were heavier than he was at the time.
Fast-forward to 2021, and Scoot is taking the plunge into uncharted waters once again — this time, on a national stage that no player his age has ever dived into in America. At 17 years old, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound prodigy is the youngest professional in the history of the NBA G League, and one of the most exciting prospects in hoops today as a member of the G League Ignite.
“His dad and his family, like every parent, [think their son is great]... I have kids, and all of us who have kids, we think our kids are good. But they really have one, and they know they have something that's different from everything else,” Ignite head coach Jason Hart told BasketballNews.com over the phone.
“So it's courageous for [Scoot] to do that, but he's in the right place 'cause he's far superior than any high school basketball player right now. So it's like, he's in the right spot. He's heading to his dream a little early. Why waste time?”
Unable to make the NBA leap until 2023, Henderson is set to spend two seasons with the Ignite, so we’ll have to wait a little longer to see him play in the best league across the globe. But as is often the case with blue-chippers, the basketball world is certainly doing its part as the conductor of that hype train.
Just over a month ago, the high-school-aged Henderson graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Media members have already taken notice of his capabilities, and hoop heads are smitten with the highlight-reel clips going viral on social media.
“I think his approach is different. I think his dreams and where he's trying to get to is far more than any hype you can give him,” Hart said. “Like, I think probably in his mind, he's trying to be the best ever. So he's definitely not letting this [attention] get to him 'cause... this is just something that we're giving our opinion about what we think he's going to be.
“I think what he thinks of himself is far more, so that's even better. So he's not even really paying attention to whatever's going on [with outside noise]. He's locked in."
Thus far, 11 games in with the Ignite, Henderson is leading the team’s second unit, averaging 14.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists in over 24 minutes per contest. He has put forth seven double-digit scoring performances, including a three-game stretch at the beginning of the season when he strung together 31, 22 and 27 points consecutively.
“[My] first impression [of the G League] was that these guys are trying to make it to the next level just like me,” Henderson told BasketballNews.com over the phone. “They're not gonna take it easy on us just 'cause we're the younger guys. And our coach told us after the first game, he said, 'All that media stuff is over.' So we really just gotta keep doing what we're doing and keep pressing the issue.”
“His maturity [has really caught my eye],” Hart added. “I mean, to be 17 years old and playing in the professional [environment] — I know people sometimes say the G League [isn't], but this G League is very, very talented; it [has] more first-round picks in it than any college game wherever at or high school [game]. His approach to his daily work assignment is amazing. I've never seen it before. Never."
Henderson has so many people in his corner already, from relatives to coaches to NBA stars.
He has a great relationship with Fred VanVleet and Jaylen Brown in particular, the latter of whom referred to Scoot as “the best 17-year-old I’ve ever seen.”
“It honestly just boosts my confidence. Really, just knowing that I'm going where I'm supposed to be going. It just boosts my confidence,” Henderson said. “And just having the conversations with former players and players now, they're really just helping me out. Just giving me sidenotes and all that stuff, it's a blessing.”
Henderson also mentions that he's close with fellow Atlantans in the pros — Jared Harper and Collin Sexton. While he met VanVleet and Brown through his agency connections, he formed a bond with Harper and Sexton while working out together at his father’s gym, Next Play 360.
“My dad had put a call together, and they wanted to use the gym,” Henderson said. “I mean, why not do that? Why not just work out with Collin Sexton, you feel me? So it was just a blessing to work out with him and see his work ethic. It kinda matched mine, but his work ethic is crazy. Collin Sexton's work ethic is crazy. I work out with a lot of those [local] guys, especially at my game. Isaac [Okoro], Sharife [Cooper], all those guys."
Sexton has taken notice of Henderson’s attentiveness to the little things. The Cleveland Cavaliers guard explains how they’ll work on moves off the dribble, and as they alternate, Scoot will approach him and ask questions.
“He always just pays attention to details,” Sexton told BasketballNews.com over the phone. “'Okay, alright, I see why you do this,' or, 'Let me know why you do this.' He's always locked in in that area and wanting to know what's the reason behind it. Other guys will just do the moves and not think about what's next or any counter after it...
“I remember coming out of high school, we played pretty much almost similar. Just the passion and emotion he plays with, I tell him all the time, 'Don't change that at all. Just go out there and continue to be that dog because that's what's gonna help you at the next level,' and have that work ethic. 'You keep working and you keep grinding for something, at the end of the day it's gonna happen. Dreams do come true.' That's what I tell him all the time.”
The Ignite’s vets are constantly in his ear. Pooh Jeter is the one taking Scoot under his wing, giving him pointers along the way when they’re not reading “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” Having the support of your loved ones always helps too, especially since, in the case of the Hendersons, they all know what they’re talking about.
Each of his older sisters — Diamond, China and Onyx — has played Division I college basketball, and the youngest in the family, Crystal, is on track to do the same, making waves at Carlton J. Kell High School on the recruiting trail in the Class of '23. Scoot’s older brother, CJ, was a teammate of his at Kell, and their older brother, Jade, played football.
Being a part of a basketball (and sports) family like the Henderson Seven is something Scoot doesn’t take for granted.
“I can't describe the feeling. It's just... they understand where I'm coming from every single time, and they don't take it light on me, honestly,” Henderson said. “They let me know what's up for real. They keep it a hundred with me even if I have a bad game or if I have a good game and [they] tell me what I could've done better. Literally the same night we played Golden State [affiliate Santa Cruz], my older sister, she was just telling me how to get over a screen. They've all been in the game, so it's really beneficial."
BasketballNews.com's Senior NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock first started hearing about Henderson a couple years ago from Scoot’s mentor and coach, Desmond Eastman, a.k.a. “The General.”
Matt, I’ve got a real one. You need to come to Atlanta to see him.
He followed that advice and flew out to see Henderson work out at Next Play 360 with his family.
“It was clear from the get-go that Scoot was a killer. I love his approach to the game," Babcock said. "Even in an individual workout, you could tell how tough and competitive he is… he doesn’t have a big boisterous personality, but he still exudes a quiet confidence. When he steps on the floor, he’s serious. I think he has the mental makeup to be great.”
Other than when he’s with his family, Henderson will tell you himself that he’s been a quiet guy for most of his life, whether that’s on the court or off it.
Yet, coaches that recruited Scoot in the past told him that he needs to be more vocal and lead on the floor, so he’s taken that to heart. He feels the strides he's made as a leader have stood out recently. On top of that, he acknowledges that being loud on the floor and more visibly enthusiastic shows who he really is as a person despite his reserved nature. Henderson points to a preseason meeting he went to with his mother, Crystal F., prior to making the trek to Walnut Creek, CA, as a big reason why he’s started to come out of his shell. His brother moving in with him has helped as well.
Hart understands that Scoot’s personality will evolve as he grows and adapts to the professional environment, but he doesn’t want him to go away from what makes him special.
"I hope he doesn't change. I hope he stays stoic and just continues to be who he is,” Hart said. "Don't try to change and be somebody else, and I know with his support group he's gonna stay being Scoot."