SALT LAKE CITY — Marshall Henderson arrived in Utah last fall with a reputation as a guy who knew how to shoot the basketball and wasn't afraid to fire up shots from almost anywhere on the floor.
Henderson has done that, jacking up shots from everywhere and making more and more as the season has progressed.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Texas has been a bright spot, if not the bright spot, for a Utah basketball team that has struggled around the .500 mark all season. It's not far-fetched to say Henderson has been the Utes' most important player this year. When Henderson is hot, the Utes win. When he's not, they usually don't.
From Day 1, Henderson entrenched himself in the starting lineup for Utah and so far he's been everything coach Jim Boylen expected and more.
"His ability to handle success has been impressive as well as his ability to adapt to the college game and his willingness to be coached," said Boylen. "He's got a fiery attitude and plays with a chip, which I like."
Henderson also came with the reputation as a feisty kid who played with passion and wouldn't back down from anyone. He's proved that, too, getting a technical foul in his very first game as a Ute and another in January when he hit BYU's Jackson Emery and received a one-game suspension.
With the return match with BYU coming up Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center, Henderson has been reminded of the time his passion got a little out of control during the final minute of the Cougars' 82-69 win.
Henderson said he learned a big lesson from it, particularly how he hurt the team by not being available for the next game against Colorado State, which the Utes lost at home. Boylen said he was impressed by how Henderson put the incident behind him and came out with perhaps his best game the following week, scoring a season-high 24 points in a win at TCU in front of friends and family.
As a true freshman, Henderson has already set freshman records at Utah and the Mountain West Conference for most 3-point attempts (183) and 3-point makes (63). By the end of the year, he'll be in the top 10 in both categories in the Ute season record book. If he keeps up the same pace, he'll easily top Nick Jacobson's career marks at Utah for 3-pointers.
Henderson will take shots from almost anywhere on the floor and isn't shy about his willingness to do so. Ask him if he's ever met a shot he didn't like, and he plays right along.
"Never — never in my life," he says with a mischievous smile. "No shot is a bad shot to me, but coach Boylen thinks differently. He lets me know, but I'm stubborn."
Several times this year, Henderson has lofted shots from well beyond the 3-point line, even beyond NBA range. While he's missed his share, he's sunk several long balls, including a couple of 25-footers in the big upset of UNLV in Las Vegas.
"I'll watch film and I'm out at NBA range and I don't even realize I'm out that far," he says.
Boylen hesitates to lessen Henderson's enthusiasm for shooting and says the freshman has improved his shot selection as the season has progressed. After a slow start, his percentage has climbed during the season.
"Marshall wants to make the big shot and he'll take the chance of not making one to make one," Boylen says. "I like that. But the challenge is how we temper that to mold him into a winning player."
Boylen recruited Henderson out of Hurst, Texas, where he played for his father, Willie, at L.D. Bell High School. Henderson became the all-time leader in Texas Division 5A in made 3-pointers with 429, while scoring a phenomenal 2,829 points in four years.
Playing for his father was a challenge at times, Henderson says, but it also helped speed up his development this year.
"I can pick up on things faster after being around a coach all my life," he said. "So my basketball IQ is higher than the normal player's."
However, the fact that he's playing so much in his first year has made it more challenging for him this year.
"It's also been a tough learning experience for me, trying to learn everything in one year," he said. "Most freshmen have a year of learning, but I have to learn on the fly while playing. You've got to pick up things fast. But it's been great, though. I've loved every minute of it."
Henderson is third in minutes played behind veterans Luka Drca and Carlon Brown and is second on the team in scoring at 12.1 (first in MWC play at 14.0 ppg). He has also become a more complete player as the season has progressed, making more drives to the basket, rebounding (2.6 per game) and playing solid defense.
"His ability to adjust in games to how people are playing him has improved and is a sign that he's pretty darn good," says Boylen. "That's one thing we want in our program is to push guys to become more complete players."
Henderson chose Utah over such schools as Gonzaga, Stanford, Marquette and Notre Dame. He said one of the main reasons he came to Utah was because of Boylen and his 13 years of experience as an NBA assistant. Like most good college players, Henderson would like to play professionally someday.
"Coach Boylen was an NBA coach, and that was the difference for me," said Henderson. "He knows exactly what it takes and runs an NBA system, so it's already a step forward for me. This is the 10th-winningest program (in the nation) and I want to help get the tradition back to where it has been."
He also has another wish over the next three seasons.
In practice, Henderson can make shots from the edge of block U in the middle of the floor, some 40 feet from the basket.
"I've told coach, one of these games during my time here, I'm going to shoot one from the U."
Don't be surprised if Henderson does … and he'll probably make it.
Games FG pct. 3-pt pct. FT pct. Reb. Pts.
Marshall Henderson 27 .379 .344 .806 2.6 12.1