It’s a good thing Scoot Henderson believes he’s a player unlike any other since he’s blazing a new path to the NBA.
If you missed it, the 17-year-old five-star recruit made history this year when it was announced he’s taking his talents to the G League instead of college. The Marietta, Georgia native will become the first player signed to the Ignite—the California-based team whose successful first season in the NBA’s minor league could be changing basketball—that is not eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft. The youngest professional basketball player the US has ever seen is targeting the 2023 draft. And we’re not talking late in the first-round, either.
Nearly a week after the big news broke, the enormity of the decision still hits hard for the Kell High School product who earned Sports Illustrated All-American and MaxPreps Junior All-America First Team honors this past season.
“Man, I feel it’s a huge deal, to be honest, just because I’m a trailblazer,” says Henderson over Zoom. “I’m the youngest to ever do this. To be that trailblazer for some of the young guys is crazy.”
There were other paths available to Henderson. He could’ve chosen just about any major college program in the country if he wanted. He considered a few SEC schools like Auburn and Georgia (sorry, Tigers and Bulldogs fans). At one point his family had discussed the idea of heading overseas and following in the successful footsteps of LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, first-round picks in last November’s draft.
But the opportunity to make history via the Ignite’s offer, first presented to Henderson’s high school coach Jermaine Sellers by G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim months ago, was too good to turn down.
The hope is Henderson’s decision, reached in conjunction with his close-knit family, will prepare one of the top point guards projected to be available in the 2023 draft better for NBA play and life as a professional than a one-and-done season in college. That’s what projected top 5 picks in this summer’s draft Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga were looking to do when they signed on for the Ignite’s inaugural season that tipped this past winter.
“I’m a different breed. I don’t think there’s any other player out there like me.” — Scoot Henderson
Led by former NBA player and coach Brian Shaw, the Ignite team—that’s really more of a program since players also receive an education in how to be a pro off the court and get a scholarship to Arizona State University so they can take online classes—was created to attract top-tier high school talent that no longer wants to deal with the NCAA’s increasingly antiquated guardrails and would prefer to play professionally in the States.
“There were just so many pros that I can’t pass up on,” says Henderson. “It was a perfect opportunity to where it’ll develop my body, my IQ level, just all-around.”
And, of course, there’s also the significant sums of money Henderson will make signing with the Ignite for two seasons.
Flanked on the video conference call by his parents, Crystal and Chris, and the logo of the gym—Next Play 360—the family built and runs near their home in Georgia, the Hendersons take turns running through all the many reasons why this move made the most sense.
“I thought that he would gain more experience going that route,” says Chris. “Starting from middle school to high school, I always wanted to play up for him. So it’s pretty much the same route. I want him to adjust now.”
To make this historic move, Henderson reclassified in December. Technically a junior, he took on added course work to complete high school early and will enter the G League with his degree—a requirement for all players. So for anyone out there who thought the basketball prodigy had kicked the bucket on school, Crystal would like to set the record straight.
“Let me just clarify, he is graduating with a 3.5 GPA and he’s going to continue his education—his college education and his life skills, education which is not taught in college, which is not taught in high school, or taught in any traditional brick and mortar setting,” she says. “I think it’s a great opportunity to explore the things that he’s really, really interested in and at the same time grabbing that degree. But I’m happy with the choice that we’ve decided as a family.”
Plus Crystal no longer felt like high school—where Henderson averaged 24.4 points, 6.6 boards, and 4.3 assists a game during his final campaign and was named the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Class 6A Player of the Year—was safe for her son. She had grown tired of seeing him clothes-lined and targeted with unnecessarily physical play.
“I know it’s going to be a lot of contact at the next level, I’m not naive to that,” says Crystal. “But I’m hoping and praying that it’ll be a level of respect to where they won’t want to purposely injure someone.”
Even though playing one more year of high school ball also received consideration, it would’ve meant passing up on the $500,000 the 6’3” guard will make each season with Ignite.
“The money wasn’t really the issue,” says Chris. “He’s just so focused to get to his primary goal and that’s the NBA. We haven’t really discussed what he wants to do [with the money]. It’s more of a business aspect for his community and what he wants to do to be financially secure to accrue generational wealth.”
And, real talk, when he (ideally) becomes a lottery selection in 2023, that half a million per year will look like a pittance. While Henderson says his game is unique, he’s incorporated aspects of Damian Lillard’s work ethic, Russell Westbrook’s relentless motor, and the late Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality to put himself in this position.
“I’m a different breed. I don’t think there’s any other player out there like me,” says Henderson. “Just with high energy, an improving shot, and just getting everybody involved, I’m the most unselfish five-star, high-level recruit out there.”
And also a trailblazer. Can’t forget that.
By Adam Caparell | Complex