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Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Marshall Henderson officially on thin ice

By Eamonn Brennan


In Marshall Henderson's crazy-pants world, Wednesdays are not merely Wednesdays. They are "#whitegirlwednesdays," whatever that means. Most Wednesdays, the hashtag is accompanied by typical athlete-tweet self-motivation. On this particular Wednesday, Henderson accompanied his ritual with a vague, ominous warning:

This will be an interesting #whitegirlwednesday

— marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) July 10, 2013

Needless to say, the prophecy has been fulfilled: Three hours after Marshall issued his advisory, Ole Miss announced it had indefinitely suspended Henderson for a violation of team rules, according to its release. Multiple outlets, including ESPN's Jeff Goodman, soon learned the suspension was a result of multiple failed drug tests, according to sources.

In 2012-13, after a long, winding, trouble-pocked career at Utah, Texas Tech and South Plains Community College, Henderson finally made good on his talent. He led Ole Miss in scoring (attempting an insane 394 3s in the process), and the Rebels made their first NCAA tournament under Andy Kennedy, which included an upset of No. 5-seeded Wisconsin in the first round -- a win that played no small part in the previously embattled Kennedy's new four-year, $1.8 million contract.

Henderson rose to national prominence not only for shooting a gazillion 3s, or for getting Ole Miss into the bubble picture, but for being, as he has readily admitted, crazy. Henderson screamed at himself and opposing players, taunted fans with hilarious abandon, and even showed up at a bar after Ole Miss beat Wisconsin. Much of it was the kind of thing that tends to enrage old, stodgy, humorless types, and there were immediately detractors. But Henderson's reckless style, the barely concealed rage he channeled into his game, was impossible to ignore. In a climate that seeks to conceal any and all flashes of personality at every turn, Henderson was a raw nerve. It was thrilling.

Marshall Henderson
Marshall Henderson gave Ole Miss fans plenty to scream about last season, including an NCAA tourney win.
For many, the shift from "whatever, this guy is awesome" to "OK, too far" came in March, when Henderson responded to Ole Miss' season-ending second-round loss to La Salle by whipping a pair of obscene gestures at fans. In the offseason, Henderson wrote an open letter on the Rebels' athletics website apologizing for letting his anger boil over.

"I play the game with a lot of passion, and sometimes that passion boils over," Henderson wrote. "I take responsibility for my actions this season and apologize to anyone I offended. However, my edge on the court has made me the player that I am. I can’t change that, but I do understand that I can take things too far.

"I have come to understand this year that I represent this team and this university, and I have to hold myself to a higher standard than people in the stands, because I am a student-athlete at Ole Miss."

Turns out, the biggest problem isn't what Henderson does when he's on the court. It's what he spends his time doing off it.

This latest suspension is hardly Henderson's first drug-related issue. In high school, when he fielded scholarship offers from Gonzaga, Notre Dame and Stanford, Henderson was arrested for trying to buy $800 worth of marijuana with counterfeit currency. He subsequently tested positive for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. In 2012, and after repeatedly failing to perform his court-ordered community service, Henderson spent 25 days in jail.

Now, following these latest reports -- and rumblings that Henderson is legitimately close to being dismissed from the school -- Ole Miss must undertake a classic cost-benefit analysis. Does Henderson's talent outweigh his problems? He was the Rebels' best player last season and will surely be their prized asset in 2013-14, provided he makes it to November. He is also, in many ways, the best thing to happen to Ole Miss basketball in a long time -- a player with must-watch casual-fan appeal, someone who can compel viewers to closely follow Kennedy's typically forgettable Rebels hoops program where otherwise they might rightfully shrug.

But at what point does his fame paint the entire program with an ugly brush? At what point does Kennedy begin to look like an enabling pushover, just one more coach willing to trade scruples for wins? At what point does the attention undermine everything positive that could come along with it? When is there such a thing as bad PR? Where is the line?

If Henderson hasn't already crossed it, he's dangerously close.