STOCKTON, Calif. – Scoot Henderson can now truly see the 2023 NBA draft on the horizon after his successful two-year stint with the NBA G League Ignite has come to an end.
While every passing day is a step closer to the NBA draft, it still doesn’t seem real to the heralded draft prospect.
“I’m ready for the day for sure,” Henderson told Andscape before a G League Ignite game on March 19. “There are times where I think, ‘Bro, this is crazy.’ Sometimes I just lose my feel of myself. I just feel like it’s a dream. It’s almost like you’re watching somebody else’s dream but you’re in it.
“And it’s just a blessing and all I can do is just continue to work and to get better as a person and as a hooper. So, I’m just ready for it.”
Henderson, 19, proved he is ready to be in the NBA after two years of apprentice work in the G League.
In 19 games this season with the Ignite, Henderson averaged 16.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 30.7 minutes per game. Keep in mind that the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder accumulated these statistics against grown men, several who are current NBA players down in the G League on assignment. He also played in the Rising Stars Challenge, a game including the NBA’s top first- and second-year players, during All-Star Weekend in 2022 and 2023. Meanwhile, most American NBA draft prospects his age are competing against players their age in college basketball or for Overtime Elite while shooting behind a shorter 3-point line.
The one knock on Henderson this season was his 3-point shooting (27.5%) behind an NBA 3-point line. Ignite head coach Jason Hart is confident that Henderson will improve in that area, and that he has an advantage entering the NBA over his American counterparts.
“No disrespect to OTE and college, but Scoot is playing in a league where billionaire owners are sending their players down to practice to play to get better,” Hart said to Andscape. “Billionaires are taking it seriously. Everybody judging Scoot should take it seriously that he has been playing pro ball for two years. He is like a two-year veteran at the pro level. When he does get to an NBA team, no disrespect to who he is playing with now, but he is going to be playing with NBA rotation players.
“So, he is going to look even better in the NBA. Now [in the NBA] he is playing with that 40% 3-point shooter. Now he is playing with that veteran NBA center and small forward. The court is going to open up even more for him. It’s going to be crazy. People are going to be like, ‘Damn, we overjudged.’ People are always talking about, ‘Can he shoot?’ I played with Tony Parker when he was a rookie. He wasn’t a shooter.”
Another benefit for Henderson during those two years was being mentored daily by former NBA point guard Pooh Jeter, who is 39 years old. Henderson bypassed his senior year of high school to start his pro career early, signing a two-year, $1 million deal with the Ignite in 2021. From the moment Henderson arrived, Jeter played the role of mentor and big brother for a mentee who is eager to listen. Jeter said Henderson’s focus his second season was to show that he can play the point guard position.
“I remember the first day we met each other, and I had to stop the practice to say, ‘Bro, I’m 20 years older than you,’ ” Jeter said. “That really hit me. He was 17 and he had this ability and strength to hang with us. That was huge. That is baby brother. Now being in Year 2 as a pro, as a rookie next year he is going to be like, ‘I’m ready for this.’
“The first year was like, ‘Yo, what’s up?’ The second year was like, ‘I’m going to show you that I can run a team. Even if it isn’t working for me, I still got to feed my teammates. We still got to win.’ That’s a part of the growth. What we’ve been studying he had to show into his actions. That is the understanding part. That is him being able to listen to advice and continue to be wise.”
The G League shut down Henderson for the rest of the season on March 14. But instead of departing to his native Atlanta to prepare for the upcoming NBA draft, Henderson believed it was necessary to stay with the Ignite throughout the rest of their regular season that ended March 25.
“That’s shows a lot about the person Scoot is by him staying,” Jeter said. “He could have really shut it down after the French game [against projected No. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama on Oct. 4]. But him being a hooper and a teammate, that showed everything. He knew this season was about him learning about running a team and a business. He is experiencing so much. That is what he signed up for, to continue to learn and continue to be ready for next season.”
Looking back, Henderson was thrilled with his growth on and off the court during his two years with the Ignite and says he is going to miss everyone with the franchise.
“I’m not going to regret coming here at all,” Henderson said. “I’m going to be proud of what I became out of this organization, and how I came into it. I always look back at old pictures and how I came into it, and how I’m leaving, how I act about certain situations and how I go about them now. It’s just seeing my growth as a person.
“The goal was to just to get better. Never paying attention to the stats, but always just to get better and get more comfortable. I think that comes with it. So, I just feel like I’ve been more prepared than probably somebody that didn’t get as much playing time in college or whatever. I’m ready.”
The Ignite players, coaching staff and other staff members all say they’re going to miss Henderson because of his humility, lack of ego and thoughtfulness.
On road trips, the Ignite fly on commercial planes and there were times when Henderson was stuck with a middle seat without extra leg room. Hart said Henderson never complained or asked for a change in seat. Henderson attempted to bring all his teammates on a private jet to NBA All-Star Weekend to watch him play in the Rising Stars Challenge, but sources said the G League vetoed the potential perk. Ignite director of performance Ernest DeLosAngeles said Henderson has helped him bring team bags into arenas on his own accord.
Henderson is sponsored by Puma, and he gave his teammates and coaches shoes and clothing as a sign of appreciation. Henderson also showed his appreciation to Jeter by giving him a signed Rising Stars Challenge jersey.
“That was a huge thank you for me,” Jeter said. “He texted me, ‘Are you in your room? I’m here.’ He came with the jersey. I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ Then [recently], he said to everyone in the group chat, ‘Y’all send me your room numbers.’ And everyone sent it. I got to my door and there were eight boxes of shoes and sweatsuits waiting for me. But that’s him. He’s a better person than a basketball player. That’s incredible to say about a 19-year-old. People have to look at his character, which is amazing.”
Hart credited Henderson’s parents and family for his humility. Henderson says going to the NBA won’t change him as a person.
“Obviously, my lifestyle might change in the NBA,” Henderson said. “But right now, it’s about whatever it takes to get to one spot. Being middle seat in the planes, I don’t really care. It’s about whatever it takes and just staying humble because the game will always humble you. And life will always humble you. So, I always just try to stay levelheaded and never take anything for granted, that’s for sure. And just continue to be who I am. I don’t want to change just because I have this or all that.”
Henderson said he was considering taking a minivacation before returning to Atlanta to rejoin his family and prepare for the draft. He plans to be at the NBA draft combine in Chicago and the draft lottery there on May 16. Henderson said he looks forward to talking to NBA team executives face to face and allowing them to get to know him more as a person. Wembanyama is widely projected to be the top pick in the 2023 NBA draft, while Henderson, Alabama freshman forward Brandon Miller and Overtime Elite point guard Amen Thompson are considered the next best prospects. Henderson currently is ranked as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA draft by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.
While Henderson is still holding out hope he can be top pick of the 2023 NBA draft, he is following his Christian faith for guidance on what’s to come.
“I want to go No. 1 for sure, but God has a plan,” Henderson said. “So, I’m trusting in God’s plan. Me and Pooh and some of the guys went to chapel the other day and we were just talking about [the future]. God does everything for a reason and as long as I continue to trust him, it’ll all pay out and work out in him.”
While Jeter and Henderson aren’t teammates anymore, the veteran expects the big brother-little brother bond to last a lifetime. Jeter plans to attend the NBA draft on June 22 in Brooklyn to cheer Henderson on during that life-altering day.
“He is like my little brother,” Jeter said. “I know how emotional I am going to get on draft day. He’s finally graduating and we’re going to release him like a dove. I got to be there. I told Ignite whatever we have to do to, I need to be there. I asked Scoot, ‘Can I be at your draft table?’ He said, ‘Man, you can’t be at the draft table because I only have, like, six spots.’ I was joking, but I have to be there because I was part of this process with him.”
Said Henderson: “I’m ready to go to the league and produce and do what I’m destined to do.”