Guess who's back. Back again. Shady's back. Tell a friend.
-Eminem, Without Me
That's the only time I will borrow from the oft utilized and lazily dreamt up Marshall Mathers and Marshall Henderson comparison, because for the sake of this column, it's apt. The controversial, divisive, in-your-face Ole Miss shooting guard with a checkered past and an unflappable spirit will return to the hardwood at Tad Smith Coliseum this month as the sole senior returning from the 2013 SEC Tournament Championship winning Rebel basketball team, and with him is bound to come significant media attention, fan derision, and seemingly unending scrutiny.
This is because Marshall Henderson, for better or for worse, loves the attention. Or, better yet, he subsists on it, seemingly growing more powerful with every roar of the Rebel crowd and eruption of boos from opposing fans. His on-the-floor outbursts appear to be an vent for something much more maniacal and intense going on in his mind during a game, serving a release valve for pent up emotion, nerves, and frustration. His wild shot taking streaks, "layup gang/guns up" hand signals, jersey popping, fist pounding, and mouth-agape-tongue-protruding shouts at nothing in particular have made him one of the most talked about and, naturally, hated people in all of college basketball.
His basketball skills have also earned him a lot of noteworthy attention, including first team all-SEC honors for this season, a distinction well earned after leading the conference in scoring last season with just over 20 points per game. His heroics led the Rebels to a banner year for a program that is, frankly put, among some of the worst in major conference basketball historically speaking. A very rare SEC basketball tournament championship, a trip to the NCAA tournament over a decade in the making, and a surprising upset over a nationally ranked Big Ten squad in the opening round were Ole Miss basketball accomplishments which were more than enough to give us Rebs cause to look beyond Marshall's more controversial characteristics.
But while Marshall Henderson was the star of the team and certainly the person who possessed center stage whenever he was on the court, the Rebels of yesteryear were far from a one man show. Reginald Buckner was one of the most prolific defenders in school history, setting the blocks record during his four-year career, and Murphy Holloway did the same for rebounds. The pair of forwards were the muscle up front which allowed Marshall Henderson to perform as well as he did. Despite their wild inconsistencies, last season's Rebels team was as complete a team as Andy Kennedy has put together in Oxford; Marshall Henderson was simply just a part of that - albeit an incredibly important one.
This season should be vastly different, however. Unless a talent emerges in a completely unforeseen manner, this will be Marshall Henderson's Ole Miss team. He is the senior leadership. He is the one truly well known entity on the floor. He is the reason people will be watching Ole Miss and, therefore, he is more-or-less this whole program's identity right now. Perhaps that is why, as Rebels fans, we were a bit disconcerted to learn the offseason news of his being caught with trace amounts of marijuana and cocaine in his vehicle by Oxford Police, and upset to learn that he will have to sit out two Southeastern Conference contests as part of his punishment - a home date against Auburn and a road trip to Mississippi State.
And, no, this is far from Marshall Henderson's first run-in with the law, something that has been mentioned ad nauseum by sports media talking heads and opposing Southeastern Conference fans alike. As his wild gesticulations and taunting may suggest, Henderson likes to party and does not particularly take well to authority. He's been in and out of several schools - Ole Miss is his fourth institution of higher learning he's attended - and even spent some time in jail for violating the terms of his probation, which he received after he was arrested for counterfeiting money in order to buy drugs.
Such is the duality of Marshall Henderson. On the one hand, we celebrate his successes, and cheer him on while he leads the Ole Miss Rebels to victory, feeding into his emotionally charged basketball persona. On the other hand, we wince with embarrassment or even dare to judge him when he crosses whatever arbitrary line of "acceptable behavior" we've drawn, even if he is only taking the widely celebrated aspects of his personality to their logical next steps. Therein lies the difficulty of being a fan of the SEC's most hated basketball star; we cannot help but wonder if we are, even to a very limited extent, somewhat responsible for the loosely muzzled chaos Marshall Henderson is capable of every time he takes the floor.
But even if we are somewhat a part of the problem (this presumes, of course, that there exists a problem in the first place, something which is not conclusive), it's a damn entertaining problem to have. Welcome back, Ole Miss basketball, and welcome back, Marshall Henderson.