On the court, Scoot Henderson looks and acts like a veteran leader: talking to teammates about plays, directing traffic with ease, consulting with coaches. He can take over a game.
He also smiles a lot, which barely conceals a ruthless, competitive nature that has made the 19-year-old phenom one of the top prospects for this year’s NBA draft — behind only projected No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama.
Last week, Henderson played in Canada for the first time with the G League Ignite — and quite possibly the last — in a 127-108 loss to Raptors 905. Despite the final score, Henderson showed off all the attributes that have attracted the attention of scouts.
“I think I’m ready to make that jump to the NBA court,” the six-foot-four guard said after the game.
Henderson’s performance at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga mirrored his career trajectory: He subbed in and struggled at first (two points and 0-for-6 from the field at halftime) but then caught fire as the Ignite erased a 14-point deficit early in the third quarter.
“I feel like I’m trying to be a good player and also becoming a good leader,” said Henderson, born and raised in Marietta, Ga. “My game is just about trying to get downhill and open up things for my teammates. Sometimes I try to get them going first; sometimes I have to get myself going and that opens things up for them.”
He wasn’t on the court at the end in Mississauga, however: ejected midway through the third quarter following a scuffle with Christian Koloko, drafted 33rd by the Raptors last June. After tallying 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists, Henderson headed for the locker room — but not before stopping to sign an autograph for a young fan.
“That’s a kid who came to hopefully watch me play and put on a show,” he said. “The least I can do is give him an autograph and show my appreciation.”
Henderson’s competitive side comes naturally as the second-youngest of seven siblings. Sisters Diamond, China and Onyx played NCAA Division I basketball; dad Chris is a coach and trainer.
Sterling (Scoot) Henderson played football as a kid before taking a shot at basketball, and grew to emulate Kobe Bryant’s Mamba mentality. Like Bryant, Henderson is also set to reach the NBA without any college experience.
The G League Ignite were launched by the NBA in 2020 as an alternative to the college path for elite prospects. Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets (drafted No. 2 in 2021) and Jonathan Kuminga of the Golden State Warriors (the seventh pick in 2021) played there. Scarborough’s Leonard Miller is another Ignite prospect projected to go in the first round. Henderson said the two are “really close” and lean on each other, as teammates and friends.
After graduating from Carlton J. Kell High School in Marietta, Henderson, a five-star recruit, became the youngest player in G League history at age 17. He has been on a tear ever since. He’s averaging 16.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 19 games this season and has appeared in two Rising Stars games, part of NBA all-star weekend.
“I know I’ve got a lot of things to work on, just perfecting my craft and getting consistent in my game,” he said about a future in the NBA. “It’s going to be really special. Five years ago, I had no idea I would be in this situation.”
His game, at this early stage, has already been compared to veteran NBA stars Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. The comps are nice, he said, but he’d rather create his own path. His mantra: Overly Determined to Dominate, or ODD.
“Just trying to do extraordinary stuff, not just on the court but off the court as well, giving back to my community,” he said. “That’s just a motto that I came up with right off the rip. Those are the words that came to mind that describe me.”
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