Sunday, September 24 2023

You can see his smile from 50 feet away. As he walked toward me, his shirt came into view. It’s a red collared zip-up with a big, black star in the center of it.

When he sits down at the Chicago Marriott Marquis for a conversation, he has a bottled water in hand and there are some fruit snacks and candy on the table. 

This is Scoot Henderson, the bright and unique 19-year-old who forewent college and took the NBA G League Ignite route at the age of 17. When the Marietta, Georgia native elected to skip his senior year of high school and head straight to Nevada for the Ignite program, he became the youngest professional player in the history of American basketball.

A 6-foot-2 guard with a 6-9 wingspan, elite athleticism, game-changing speed and a wide variety of offensive tools, Henderson has been compared to Russell Westbrook — one of his favorite players — and prime Derrick Rose

What he showed in Las Vegas throughout the last two years, most notably last October against expected No. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama, was the ability to change the game while attacking at the rim, throwing down vicious dunks and displaying high-level playmaking. In any other draft year, Henderson is the lead story. What does he make of that? 

“Whoever it is that doesn’t draft me, it’s nothing personal, but here’s my mentality: 20 years from now, I want everybody to say this: ‘Scoot Henderson is the best point guard to ever play the game. Point. Blank. Period.’” 

As the youngest boy in a family of seven children, Henderson has been dribbling a basketball for as long as he can remember. Achieving the NBA dream, and going a different path than the traditional college route, has not come without adversity both on and off the court.


Just weeks away from his dream coming true in Brooklyn on draft night, Henderson sat down with me for an extensive Q&A during NBA Draft Combine week in Chicago, opening up about his upbringing, how Steph Curry is helping prepare him for the NBA, and delivering a message to any team that passes on him in the 2023 NBA Draft.  

Fanta: What was life like with six siblings, and how did they define who you are? 

Henderson: Honestly, it was always busy in the house. Always busy. For the most part, after my older siblings started to graduate and went off to college, it was my brother CJ, my little sister Crystal — she’s at Georgia State right now — doing her thing. For the most part, it was busy all the time. My siblings were all athletes as well, so they know the work you have to put in, and they know the work I had to put in to become who I want to become. They built who I am. You know, I’ve always been an observer. I’ve always been to their practices and training sessions. My little sister and I, we were always watching and participating in some activities that most 5-year-olds probably weren’t doing at the time. It was fun growing up with seven of us, as one of the Henderson Seven.

Fanta: The oldest is how old? 

Henderson: It goes from 30 down to 17.

Fanta: What were family holidays like? 

Henderson: Mostly, we were hooping. Recently though, we’ve been playing softball. Before I had left for my second season with Ignite, we played softball. Recently, at my high school jersey retirement, some of us got together to play wiffle ball. Before my first season with Ignite, we played some tennis. We always do fun activities before I head out, and it really keeps me sane in that aspect. It reminds me that I’ve got family behind me and that they’re always thinking about me, and I’m always thinking about them. In my first season with Ignite, it was pretty hard to translate from nine people in the house to just me, especially in that first week. It was pretty hard and tough, being out there by myself in Nevada before my brother and my parents came to visit. My brother helped me in that first season a lot. That first season, it was pretty hard to be by myself at such a young age. But, that’s where I grew up the most. That’s where I matured the most and found out who I am. That’s what I took away from Ignite, is I found out who I am. I got a lot of free time as a professional athlete.

Fanta: So, what have you learned about who you are with Ignite? 

Henderson: I’m a very chill guy. I found out that I like to chill a lot, that I like to read. I started reading last season, and really found out that I wasn’t into too much outside of basketball. I found out how much I like to watch film, and playing games a lot, my love for this game only grew. When fun activities did come around, I was down with it all the time. I love being a teammate. Whenever we went out to watch a game or just chilling with them, it was super fun. That’s what I’m about.

Fanta: In a recent feature that was published in April, you said you envision rings, MVP honors and more in your NBA career. What do you think you bring to the league that it hasn’t seen? 

Henderson: The league hasn’t ever seen anything like me. I will bring a flair and personality to this league. I’m intense and confident at such a young age, and I’m the most prepared player for this stage as well, heading into my rookie season. I’m not just prepared on the court, but off the court as well.

Fanta: What do you do off the court? 

Henderson: I own Next Play 360 (in Georgia). That’s a whole facility of its own and a whole area of its own. It’s a non-profit community center as I like to see it. It’s a training facility for professional athletes as well. And we don’t just do basketball either. We do food drives, and Thanksgiving food drives, plus Christmas giveaways. We bring in a few underprivileged families, and they basically write in to us. They write a paragraph talking to us about their journeys, and I love reading those stories. It’s my favorite thing to do. I read them, and that inspires me as well. 

Fanta: When did you start doing that project? 

Henderson: When I was 16, right before I graduated early from high school, we started doing the Christmas thing. We’ve done our Thanksgiving drive since 2017. That’s how I envision Next Play 360. We don’t just do that either. We try to really embrace the community. We bring in kids for tutoring sessions with teachers. I just envision it as a huge community center that people want to be around and be a part of that. That’s what I’m doing right now.

Fanta: To that end, whichever city you land in whether it’s Charlotte or Portland, that you aren’t just a player but — the best players in this league become attached to the city they are in. It feels like you’re taking that approach, that you aren’t just Scoot Henderson the basketball player.

Henderson: I’m a business. Scoot Henderson Enterprises is how I see this thing day by day. The Henderson Seven, we are an enterprise. I’m building an empire through this process that I’m going through right now. That’s how I envision it. That starts with relationships and building them. I’ve just built a new relationship with Steph Curry and his group. We’re just opening doors for each other. That’s how I see it. He’s helping me, but I’m also helping him in some aspect just given my youth, and whatever I have on the table to provide to his team as well. I’ve used his team to help me as well, and you know, it’s all one big family, one big relationship that we both contribute to. On the court in training, I’ve worked with his group and have used his trainers. They’ve helped me get better. And I’ve been training on everything, not just shooting or getting to the basket or getting stronger, but even breathing patterns through all the reps and breathing through strength and conditioning. You try not to stop breathing through core workouts. It’s little things like that that I try to pay a lot of attention to detail with while I’m training. That’s what Steph Curry, Brandon Payne and Carl Bergstrom, that’s what they bring to the table for me at Next Play 360 right now.

Fanta: What’s your emotion knowing you’ve got an alliance with one of the greats to ever play the game, Steph? 

Henderson: It’s great, and it’s a relationship that I’m building before I even go into the league. I’m 19 years old and most players don’t adapt to this league until they’re 25 or 24. The fact that I’m 19 going into the league now and just learning so young about the business of basketball. I learned about the business of basketball last year. We took a whole class on the topic with Ignite. I’m always all ears, listening and being observant of the room I’m in and just building relationships.

Fanta: How did this partnership come to fruition? 

Henderson: Steph believed in what I had going on. He just wanted to be a part of that. We’re just one big family now. He is family to me, and now we’re working together.

Fanta: Tell me about the times in your life when you’ve been doubted. How did you handle that? 

Henderson: Honestly, I maximize those moments. I really do take it to heart. Whenever somebody does try to doubt me, it just pushes me harder. When everybody says, ‘He can’t do this’ or ‘He can’t do that.’ I’ve been told, ‘Oh, he can’t lead a team.’ Well, it just pushes me harder. I never took it to heart and I don’t take things personally. That’s the thing I’ve been reading in a book lately, to never take things personally whether it’s good or bad. I’m always level-headed. My family makes sure that I’m always level-headed and so do the people closest to me. I’m always humbled by trying to feed my family. Whoever doubts me, they’re not going to like it. They won’t like the outcome.

Fanta: What do you say to the team that doesn’t take Scoot Henderson at No. 1? 

Henderson: Great question. I wish them luck in their season. It’s nothing personal. I’m going at every team anyway. I’m trying to be the best point guard to ever play the game. I’m going to go at every team and player that I play against, and try to win that matchup every time. I’m going to work for that, and work to gain that confidence and skill set in me to know that I can dominate that possession, that defensive stop, that block or that rebound. I’m going to continue to build myself and build my mind, my mental wellness and just being strong-minded in every aspect.

Fanta: You talked about being in isolation a bit when you started out with Ignite, that you went from the Henderson Seven to just being in your own apartment in Las Vegas as a 17-year-old with Ignite. What did you gain from that experience that a college basketball player doesn’t? 

Henderson: What the college kids are learning in their rookie year in the NBA, I learned at 17. Going into my rookie year in the NBA, I know how it’s going to be during the seasons. I know there will be ups and downs throughout the whole season whether I’m on the winning team or the losing team. I’ve been through those situations where there’s been an argument or a low point. I’ve been through it. I’m just trying to take my maturity to that team at a young age. Whatever team picks me is going to get that level of Scoot that’s been through those situations that will be resilient. That’s the thing I’m working on right now, to be resilient.

Fanta: You were sidelined for some time this past year due to concussion protocol as well as a nasal fracture and an ankle issue. Then, you shut down the season in March. What have the last six months been like? 

Henderson: The last few months of the season, it’s always hard to stop playing, especially when you love a team and there’s a brotherhood. I just thought that was the smartest thing to do in my situation, and it’s not like I stopped working. That’s what I always go back to — working hard. And I’m not just saying that just to say it because everybody says they’re working hard, but they’re hardly working. That’s what I always go back to. As long as I continue to make the main thing the main thing, which is basketball and family for me, I think everything else will fall into place whether I was playing the last three months of the season or not.

Fanta: Who made you fall in love with basketball? 

Henderson: My dad (Chris). I always played sports. I played football and basketball growing up. It would be summer basketball then into football, then back to basketball.

Fanta: What position did you play in football? 

Henderson: Everywhere. I was dominant. I was really dominant. And there’s tape of that, for sure. You can ask my coaches.

Fanta: When you were growing up, who was your favorite player or two to watch on TV?

Henderson: I like three: Kobe, Russell Westbrook and Allen Iverson. Allen Iverson really inspired me to be confident, to have your own flair in the game, and to have your own style. He obviously inspired a whole bunch of the league, and with what the league has become now, with the arm sleeves and tattoos. But he really just inspired me to be out there and be confident, how he was just out there and dominating the competition. That’s how I see him. He goes out there with no fear. No fear.

Fanta: Have you ever spoken to Iverson? 

Henderson: Never, but my sister has seen him, and she said that he knew me. That was crazy to me. Hopefully, I meet him someday.

Fanta: You love music and have been growing relationships with some guys in that industry. Who have you interacted with lately? 

Henderson: I just met Lil Baby. He would text me on Instagram, and we would have a conversation or two but my first time meeting him was on a jet to go watch Philly (76ers) against the Celtics in Game 4 a couple weeks ago. James Harden went off (42 points). We flew from Atlanta to Philly. That was super dope, man. Lil Baby gave me some life tips. Having a conversation with my favorite rapper, it was surreal. I tried to act cool during the moment (laughs), but in my heart, I’m like, ‘Bro, this is Lil Baby. This is crazy.’ Recently, I also met Polo G and that was crazy. I’m just in a situation right now where life isn’t real. I’m just living in the moment, and I’m so blessed.

Fanta: When you show up at the draft lottery, you’re the star of the show. How do you tell yourself to relish this moment? 

Henderson: That’s crazy when you put it like that. I’m just having fun. I always look back to little kid me and think of how far I’ve come not just as a basketball player, but as a person and how much I’ve grown. I was always to myself and quiet, but I’ve gone on to be this young man that I’m always inspired to be. That’s to be a household name and a loved person. I want to make sure there’s no hatred around my name. I want people to enjoy my company, and enjoy watching me on TV. I want all smiles when people see me.

Fanta: On the court, what’s the area of your game that you felt you needed to work on a year ago at this time that’s grown since that point?

Henderson: The biggest thing for me has been being vocal. I went into the season and my main focus was talking. This might sound crazy, but in my first season with Ignite, I didn’t talk as a point guard. It held me and my skill set back. You’ve got to be vocal and that was my goal this season, to make sure my voice is heard and even off the court as well — being vocal when I’m on the bench and trying to be a great teammate. You want to be someone your teammates want to be with. Trying to get comfortable with that was my focus last summer, just calling things out and talking on the court. You may ask, ‘How do you work on talking?’ But for me, it was about a mindset and just getting comfortable with it. It paid off a lot. I could tell how much of an impact my voice had in some games by worrying about my teammates.

Fanta: So, it’s not something you really did early on in your basketball career. How did that feedback come about? 

Henderson: Pooh Jeter (of G League Ignite) — a lot of props to him — and my coaching staff, they were always telling me, ‘You’ve got to speak up. You’re a point guard! You’ve got to say something.’ They always told me, but I took it to action. It paid off a whole bunch. I’m pretty sure Pooh is pretty proud of me. He’s always telling me how far I’ve come, and a lot of it has to do with who I am as a person, not the basketball side.

Fanta: At what age did you start thinking, ‘I could be one of the greatest ever’?

Henderson: I’ve always thought about that since I was young. I’ve always thought, ‘I’m going to be great.’ When I was in middle school, like 14-15 years old, and I was just getting the hang of basketball and knowing the game. When I started to get the hang of it, the more I stayed in the gym and worked out, the more comfortable I got with believing in myself and getting more confident. I knew that I wanted to be great, right before I went to Ignite.

Fanta: Back on Oct. 5, you faced Victor Wembanyama and Metropolitans 92 in a showcase game in Las Vegas. He went off for 37 points. You won the game and put up 28. What did that night serve as for you? 

Henderson: The game was televised, so I wanted everyone watching on TV to — by the end of the night — know who Scoot Henderson was. I came into the game with the mindset that I was going to kill. That was the season. I wanted to kill. I was in that mode that night, and it was really fun to be noticed, to have my name heard and see my name on TV that night at Lucky Penny (in Vegas), and to be on SportsCenter. They had my highlights up there, and that’s what you work for.

Fanta: Do you talk at all with Victor Wembanyama? 

Henderson: No, not really. It’s a mutual love and respect. He knows who I am, and I know who he is. We’re in a good place.

Fanta: Any prospect from this class that you’ve gotten close with? 

Henderson: I probably talk to Brandon Miller a little bit more. We’ve known each other for a while, and I was trying to recruit him to Ignite, but he ended up at Alabama. Brandon’s real. He hit me up before I came out here (to Chicago). I know a lot of the other prospects as well because we grew up together in the AAU circuit. It’s really cool to see how far we’ve come, and how we’ve all grown up. I’m an observer, and to see how hard everybody works is really cool.

Fanta: Twenty years from now, what do you want people to say about Scoot Henderson? 

Henderson: Scoot Henderson is the best guard to ever play the game. He’s a household name on and off the court. People know him for the amount of businesses, and the amount of Next Play 360 facilities there are in the world. The enterprise, the empire I’m building right now with my family. Like, the Waltons? One day, you’ll be talking about the Hendersons. That’s what I want to start now. In 25–30 years, I want to have built those relationships and really get to where I want to get.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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