Mississippi senior guard Marshall Henderson, whose basketball skill has helped offset his on-court antics and a lengthy pattern of checkered off-court behavior, has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
“Since the season ended, we have talked a lot about Marshall taking a greater leadership role with our team. With that comes greater responsibility, and he must do a better job of living up to the high standard we expect from him and he desires from himself,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said in a statement.
These kinds of summer "indefinite" suspensions usually amount to very little. The kid gets back in line, maybe he misses a handful of walkover nonconference games. The coach's point gets made and the team moves on. That might not be the case with Henderson, though.
A Utah (and juco) transfer who led the SEC in scoring last season while the Rebels made it to the NCAA tournament's round of 32, Henderson faced forgery charges in 2009 stemming from his attempt to purchase marijuana with counterfeit money, receiving two years of probation. He was then arrested in 2011 for marijuana possession and spent some time in jail in 2012 for the probation violation. Per the Deseret News, court documents show that Henderson also failed tests for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine while on probation.
You may be sensing a pattern here: Henderson has had well-documented issues with drugs.
So when CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, who lives in Mississippi, tweets that Henderson's suspension also stems from a failed drug test, and ESPN's Jeff Goodman then reports it's actually multiple failed tests, you sit up and take notice.
It's the follow-up reporting, though, that makes things a more interesting, and potentially a lot more complicated. Parrish tweeted that Henderson's future at the program is very much in the air and Goodman's sources told him that Henderson "could come back to the team if he meets certain conditions."
This is where I remind you (again) that Henderson has a lengthy record with drugs that extends well before Kennedy and Mississippi took him on. This is also where I remind you that Kennedy - who hadn't made the NCAA tournament in his first six seasons before Henderson carried his team there last season, and was on the brink of losing his job - was subsequently given a contract extension through 2017 after the Rebels made the NCAA round of 32. It's also where you should recall March photos like these, where Henderson was, ummm ... less than sober. And that the school backed Kennedy after he was alleged to have assaulted and dropped ethnic slurs on a cab driver that led to his pleading guilty to disorderly conduct in 2009.
So, yes, Henderson needs to take responsibility for his latest indiscretions, and Parrish is reporting that a stint in a rehab center is possible. All that said, if Kennedy ends up booting him from the program now, based on what's currently being reported -- and I have asked around to numerous folks who don't have anything deeper than this in the way of Henderson's alleged issues -- I have a pretty sizable problem with it.
As I have written before in this space, addiction is not a funny thing. I don't know Henderson personally, but it seems pretty clear at this point that he has substance abuse issues, issues that were very much known by Kennedy and his staff when they took a chance on him. Even if Henderson was on a no-tolerance plan at Mississippi (and stories and photos from last season seem to dispute that, or at least the enforcement of it, as do claims now of multiple failed drug tests), that calculation should change after he was primarily responsible for saving your job and earning you many extra millions in guaranteed money. You can't minimize the impact of Henderson's indiscretions when it benefits you and then bounce him when you have security. Henderson also was nine credit hours shy of his degree as of the beginning of this summer.
Maybe more information will come out that will change the calculus and my opinion can change, but as we stand, if Henderson gets tossed, Kennedy comes off like an opportunistic user. That wouldn't make him the only one in the coaching profession, but he'd be the one with a fresh new contract for at least $1.8 million a year thanks to a flawed player/person he may now discard because of a relapse. That assumes, of course, Henderson's issues with drugs ever actually changed at all. Kennedy was fine with a troubled Henderson when he took him. Now, more than ever, is not the time to give up on him.UPDATE: