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NBA G League star Scoot Henderson's aspirations far exceed the hype

NBA G League star Scoot Henderson's aspirations far exceed the hype

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."

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So how do we define “being Scoot” when the ball tips off? Take it from Hart, who’s seen moment after moment already as his coach, specifically picking out one that stood out — when Henderson sent a South Bay Lakers defender to the floor in his debut.

“His greatest area of strength is his physical stature. His body is very strong, sturdy. And then, his explosiveness is off the charts, it's a plus-10. Mix that with his work ethic — he has a tremendous work ethic — and then you hit a sonic boom,” Hart said. 

“He hasn’t even turned 18 years old yet and he’s so physical and explosive. He’s herky-jerky and has a ton of burst,” Babcock added. “When he has the ball in his hands, he’s constantly attacking his defender. He’s hard to contain 1-on-1.”

Per InStat, Henderson is 30-of-45 at the rim (70%), and has made 60% of his shots in the non-restricted area of the paint. Scoot shares that he’s “always been explosive” because he played everywhere on the football field as a freshman, logging snaps at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back and running back. Putting in three-a-days in the gym since the pandemic began has allowed him to take his explosiveness to another level.

"I will initiate as much contact for sure, but just, I feel like it would be the same mentality, honestly — to kill every time,” said Henderson, who’s inspired by Ja Morant and Russell Westbrook’s relentless attitude at the rim. “I feel like that should be the mentality in whatever you do. Just be great at whatever you do."

Henderson is quite proficient and advanced with his patience, knowing what move to make next. Training under Chuck Person last summer with Harper, Scoot would observe how he read the game and came off screens. Nowadays, Jeter is telling him to always look around as he keeps his dribble. 

“My decisions, that just comes with my feel for the game. It's just God-given,” Henderson said. “I love to get everybody involved.”

Leveraging his stop-and-go ability to keep defenders off-balance, Henderson exhibits quite the change of pace. He prefers to do his work from the wings and elbows, his favorite spots on the floor. Data backs that claim up, as Henderson has attempted 33 shots in that area, illustrated by this chart via InStat:

It makes sense that, as somebody who likes the pull-up, he’s dug into film on Phoenix Suns stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker. (“They try to say that the mid-range is fading away, but honestly, it's coming back, I would say,” he said.) 

Regarding areas of improvement, Henderson is still getting used to the longer wingspans and bigger bodies that the pros present, and battling with guys who are trying to get to the same place as him. When asked what Scoot needs to improve on, Babcock mentions his outside jumper.

“He has long arms and huge hands, which naturally creates some wasted motion in his shooting mechanics," Babcock said. "He also plays very aggressively and fast. All of which lead to inconsistent shooting. Considering that Scoot is a gym rat, I think he’ll be just fine.”

Aware of the questions surrounding his perimeter shooting, Henderson insists it will simply come with confidence, abiding by his father’s wisdom: Just stay confident no matter what's happening, no matter what's going on.

Posed the same question about what the young point guard needs to work on, Hart relays “just understanding the moving pieces in the basketball game — how to manipulate the defense with his eyes, how to get people in the right spot all the time.” Additionally, he brought up that having to tell a 36-year-old Amir Johnson and a seasoned veteran like Kevin Murphy where to be on the court is a big adjustment for a 17-year-old.

Sexton just wants to see Henderson keep learning.

“At the end of the day, you've got to think — he's [the age of] a senior in high school right now, and he has a long way to go, you know what I mean? So just let the game develop,” Sexton said. “At the end of the day, he's gonna make mistakes. He's gonna do good, gonna do bad. He's gonna have his ups, gonna have his downs. 

“But as long as he's just continuing to work hard off the court, as well as on the court, then everything else is gonna work out in itself. He continues to carry himself well, he continues to do things that's gonna help him get to the next level, then he'll be fine."

Player comparisons can be a tricky game. There’s already a reputation to live up to when you’re making history, and being mentioned in the same sentence as big-name players only adds to the pressure.

“I feel like he's gonna be up-and-coming,” Sexton said, unable to land on a specific comparison. “He's doing really good right now in the G League and he has one more season coming up after this season, so it's gonna feel like a long time for him. Just stay patient and just stick with it, and at the end of the day, enjoy this process. Because once you get into the league, everything else starts speeding up, more and more eyes are on you and more attention is drawn towards you.

“Just stay in the present. Don't look forward to the future. At the end of the day, stay in the now and don't worry about what's to come. If you stay in the now, you don't have to worry about anything ahead. 'Cause once you start worrying about everything in front of you, you're putting more and more pressure on yourself. If you stay in the now, you can just worry about what's going on right now and what's in front of me. And pretty much just trusting the process and understanding... I know his path is different from everyone else's, so he might have a little more ups or have a little bit more downs. So at the end of the day, [if] he continues to just trust the process and just stick with it, then he'll be fine."

Hart, however, is stern with his assessment.

“He reminds me of a young Derrick Rose. When Derrick Rose [was] at Memphis and obviously, [with the] Chicago Bulls. That's it. I don't want to say 'this guy, that guy.' He is a young Derrick Rose,” Hart said.

That’s high praise coming from the Ignite’s head honcho. It’s this kind of daily encouragement that plays a part in why Henderson considers his choice to go the G League route in lieu of college or overseas “a blessing.”

“I couldn't ask for it any other way, honestly. I feel like I chose the right [path] always,” Henderson said. “I don't even know how to put it in words... I'm just glad I [made] this decision. I put my all in it and took my step, and we're here. So I'm just thankful to my family for just believing in me and the coaches for believing in me."

“I feel like he's handled it pretty well. He's doing really good for himself,” Sexton said. “And I know this step right now is probably something different that he's not used to, but it's definitely gonna be really good for him and beneficial for him when he gets to the next level. At the end of the day, this is where he wants to be, and I know that's where his family wants him to be as well. So everyone's pushing for him and everybody's rooting for him. I know I am, and I know Atlanta is rooting for him as well."

Home, where it all started.

Henderson reminisces about the day he fell in love with the game and had “one of the biggest moments of my career.” As a freshman at Kell in the regional championship game, with CJ on the same team, he knocked down a pair of free throws that secured a huge win and set the tone for his high-school stint. 

Scoot has carried that momentum into his next stop, and then some.

“I think he’s the real deal,” Babcock said. “He has the potential to be the No. 1 pick next year and honestly, he’d likely be in the first tier of prospects if he were able to be in this year’s draft.”

“The main thing is really I just bring great energy to the team, whether I'm playing or not,” Henderson said when asked how he'd make an elevator pitch to a general manager. “Whether I'm on the bench — as you've seen earlier in the season, I was on the bench but you could hear me on the court; I was the biggest cheerer. So really, just having that great energy. And when I'm the floor, I bring the energy as well. I bring the passion. I attack the basket, I can make quick decisions coming off the screens or coming off the ball hand-offs. 

“I can really do anything, honestly. Anything I put my mind to — and my confidence is crazy."

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