With NBA Draft in sight, Scoot Henderson won’t stop working and learning: ‘I don’t like failure’

LAS VEGAS — Scoot Henderson has developed a knack for doing things extraordinarily early. He became a pro at 17 in 2021, signing a two-year deal with the G League to become the youngest professional basketball player in US history. This season, he started his own AAU programsone for boys and one for girls, despite still being a teenager.

But such accomplishments don’t really faze Henderson anymore. He has gotten used to his precocious life.

“I kind of got over that,” Henderson told The Athletic. “Like thinking that whatever I do is wild or whatever I do is like historic or stuff like that. I just try to maximize what I got right now. And I’m in a blessed position right now.”

Last month, as the NBA descended onto Las Vegas for the G League Winter Showcase, the league also came to see Henderson. Executives sat courtside for Ignite practices in mid-December — Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks and Dallas Mavericks VP of player personnel Michael Finley were among those there, along with others. At that time, it was the only way to catch Henderson in action. He was still ramping up to play again after a concussion and a nasal fracture Nov. 18, but on the day of the Ignite’s first game of the Showcase, word circulated among some NBA executives that Henderson would play that night. When the Ignite took the floor to warm up for their game, Henderson was on another court in the back of the cavernous Mandalay Bay Convention Center warming up too, league sources said.

Ultimately, Henderson didn’t play. He and the Ignite were conservative with his comeback from a serious injury. He returned Dec. 27 after missing 11 games.

Henderson has become used to the attention. He experienced it in its most-heightened form in October when the Ignite played Victor Wembanyama and Metropolitans 92, as dozens of NBA executives flocked to Las Vegas to watch the consensus top two players in the 2023 NBA Draft.

While Wembanyama has continued to impress in France, Henderson has drawn rave reviews too. He has scored 20 or more points in seven of his eight games back and already threw down what will be one of 2023’s best dunks.

Ignite GM Anthony McClish offered nothing but superlatives about Henderson. He said he told NBA teams the same when someone calls about him.

“I can understand why you got Victor No. 1 on your board, but that’s your conscience that you have to live with if you pass on him,” McClish told The Athletic. “If you go and you say, hey, look, I got to put my name behind somebody to draft and put my reputation on the line — I don’t know Victor personally, so I’m biased of course —but I’m putting my name behind Scoot now and in the foreseeable future, with 100 percent confidence.”

Henderson doesn’t have any relationship with Wembanyama, he said, but they are inexorably linked for now. Wembanyama is the presumed top pick in the draft, and Henderson, a 6-foot-2 guard with explosiveness and skill, is expected to go No. 2. In his most recent mock draft, The Athletic‘s Sam Vecenie says Henderson “pretty clearly would have gone first overall in both the 2022 and 2020 NBA drafts.”

One exec who watched Henderson last month threw out comparisons to Russell Westbrook and John Wall and said Henderson could have a career similar to theirs. Henderson, however, wouldn’t be happy with that.

“No, I want to have my own career,” he said. “Where people are saying like ‘You’re having Scoot’s career’ or whatever. I want to go down my own path. I don’t want to try to follow up anybody. Of course, Russell Westbrook and John Wall are great players. Great guards, leaders. But I just want to make my own path.”

He already is, and trying to make the most of it. Henderson has been a pro for almost two seasons and has used that time to learn.

He is becoming educated about business — learning about real estate and how to take care of his money — and about the business of the sport. Last year, he applied for trademarks for his name, Scoot Henderson, and his personal motto, 0VERLY DETERMINED TO DOMINATE, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, according to filings.

While most rookies enter the NBA unaccustomed to fame and riches at that age, Henderson will have had two years as a trial run to ease into it.

“I wouldn’t say like a crazy edge, but I would say you recognize more,” he said. “We learn about the business of it so we wouldn’t be shocked by what happened to so and so.”

Henderson has tried to take advantage of the opportunities playing with the Ignite has presented him. At first, he was surprised by the amount of free time he had as a pro, so he started reading more.

He likes to flip back-and-forth between two books at once, but he prefers ones on self-development. He calls reading “the best school for me.”

Henderson seeks out self-development books because he seeks progress. He doesn’t want to just prepare for success; he also wants to be ready in case of failure.

“Because I know there’s going to be, like, downsides of being this young and being successful,” he said. “Inside, you’re not going to always feel great. So I just try to minimize that. So I just tried to make sure I’m OK always and blessed for real.”

He adds: “I don’t like failure. So I don’t want to ever see that.”

Henderson also fills up his free time with late-night trips to the gym. His workout of choice is what he calls the “side to side.” Henderson begins at one elbow and shoots before he slides to the elbow on the other side of the court. He tries to make 30 on each side, and if he misses a shot he subtracts two. Then he does this again but on each short corner. He does this twice.

Work is a form of preparation and a coping mechanism for Henderson. It is how he settles himself as the buzz about him grows.

“I try to be great at everything court-wise and and try to be the best leader I could possibly be,” he said. “That’s how I try to separate myself and just always be myself. I’m pretty sure you can lose yourself in the league or making a lot of money, but you’ve got to be mentally sound.”

Henderson is a visual learner, so he does best by watching and doing. He has started to watch more basketball this season, and he soaks in information by seeing it. He sometimes watches video of a move and then goes to the court to do it himself and add his own tweak.

When he does hit the gym, his father, Chris, is often there with him. Chris Henderson was a coach and ran his own gym in their Georgia home. He remains the biggest influence on Scoot, and one of his lessons rings in his son’s ears.

“He did teach me: You’re not gonna get anything if you don’t work hard,” Scoot said. “The basketball gods are always going to seek out when you’re not working. So I just try to keep that in my mind and try to give the basketball gods something good.”

(Photo of Scoot Henderson: Lucas Peltier / USA Today)

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