'Best-kept secret' gaining notice

Unheralded Henderson leads Neuse Christian to prominence

Staff WriterFebruary 16, 2011 

  • Age: 16

    Year: Junior

    Position: Shooting guard

    Height: 6 feet 4

    Favorite subject: Architecture

    Points per game: 22

    Rebounds per game: 6

    Three-point shooting: 48 percent

    Colleges interested: Alabama, Boston College, Richmond, Texas A&M, UTEP, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, William & Mary

Every so often Terry Henderson Jr. will wander into his father's office at home. When he was a boy, the room held the memories - pictures, game balls, trophies - of Terry Henderson Sr.'s basketball career.

In the past few years, Terry Henderson Sr., who played at Nebraska-Omaha, has started putting symbols of his son's success next to his own. On a large, three-tier bookshelf are his son's two state championship rings. His high school national championship ring is there, too.

A couple of weeks ago, a new item found its way onto the bookshelf. It is a commemorative basketball, displayed in a glass case with a plaque. The ball salutes an accomplishment that only a few teenagers achieve.

Engraved on the plaque are these words:

Terry Henderson Jr.

2,000 career points

Neuse Christian Academy

Terry Henderson Jr., a shooting guard, is most proud of the third line.

"It's a blessing that the Lord gave me my athletic skills for Neuse," he says. "I'm very thankful."

In order to appreciate Henderson, 16, and his accomplishments at Neuse, you have to first learn how the small, private school on Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh has helped Terry Henderson Jr. grow.

Neuse (22-3) is a K-12 school. The enrollment is 235. And Henderson is perhaps the biggest reason the school has become a basketball powerhouse.

"I know some of the highly rated players in Raleigh, but Terry is the best shooter," said Neuse coach Ken Adrian, who calls Henderson the best-kept secret in Raleigh. "Come on out and watch, and you will agree with me."

Still, with Henderson's talent - the junior has scored 2,383 points as of Tuesday - he's mostly unknown to the average Raleigh fan, which leads to the question: Why is he not playing at a bigger public or more prestigious private school?

"Neuse is a loving school, and they showed me that love ever since I joined the varsity team in eighth grade," Henderson says. "I love it here."

Adrian arrived at Neuse in 2007 from Baltimore's Grace Bible, another small school, and remembers when he talked to one of Neuse's returning players that first year.

"What did you guys do in practice?" Adrian asked.

"What do you mean?" the player responded. "We scrimmaged."

That was it.

No drills. No weightlifting. No conditioning program. And there was this history to deal with: Neuse had not had a winning season in 10 years.

Yet whenever Adrian watched the middle-school team, he noticed a shy, soft-spoken seventh-grader who could shoot better than anyone else in the gym.

That seventh-grader was Henderson.

"If you look at the 10 best players in the school," Adrian said, "Terry was in the top five."

Even after Henderson made the varsity in eighth grade, Adrian wondered: Was Henderson mature enough, or would the move hinder his development?

'Very balanced player'

In his first season on varsity, Henderson was ready to lead the Lions. As the point guard, he, along with three seniors, reached the N.C. Christian School Association championship game.

Before the game, the Lions left on their bus as the entire Neuse community - parents, students, teachers and administrators - stood outside on a chilly February day to send them off.

Henderson said the scene felt like a movie.

Then, with the Lions trailing Oak Level Baptist by two points with 16 seconds left, senior Jeremy Jones passed the ball to an open Henderson.

Swish.

"I felt I had the confidence to take the shot," Henderson said.

The basket was the game-changing moment in a 62-55 victory, the team's first state title in its history.

"Our crowd went nuts," said Terry Henderson Sr., an assistant coach. "It was so emotional because there were [eliminated] teams in there that were actually rooting for little Neuse because they had never seen us."

Once the buzzer sounded, Neuse's students rushed the court.

"It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Terry Henderson Jr. said. "Just seeing everybody emotionally get into the game, and when we won, everybody jumped around."

After that victory, everybody at Neuse knew who Henderson was. And by the summer of 2008, almost every high school coach in Raleigh wanted Henderson.

"We built up a reputation for the school really fast," said Scott Hill, one of the three seniors.

'That kid is loyal'

Before his freshman season, plenty of coaches had watched Henderson play summer ball with his AAU team or at summer camps. Whether it was right in the middle of a drill or after a game, someone always tried to talk to him about transferring.

The message from private and public schools was the same:

"We love you."

"We need you to come here."

"If we had you on the team ..."

The coaches did have a point. Neuse plays in the NCCSA East, one of the weakest conferences in the area. Plus, coaches told Henderson, he could be seen by more recruiters if he played at a bigger program.

"I wanted to stay [at Neuse] to try to build the program," said Henderson, who would be assigned to play at Wakefield High if he weren't at Neuse.

After each school's infomercial, he told people no, which meant he was somewhat of a rarity on the high school basketball scene.

In the summer of 2009, Henderson became the persuader. He convinced his best friend, Trevor West, to transfer from East Wake to Neuse.

"It meant a lot to me because he wanted me to get better," West said. "That kid is loyal. ... He wants to stay here."

A hunger for the game

Dave Telep, a senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com, evaluates the top high school players. Telep's favorite Henderson story involves John Wall, one of the best players ever to come from Raleigh.

Telep remembers Wall, last year's No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, would watch other high school games when he wasn't playing. Telep now sees Henderson at least once a week at a marquee game.

"From a college coaches' perspective, it's a lot of fun to recruit a guy like that," said Telep, who thinks Henderson can be a Division I recruit. "It's not a tangible thing you can measure, but it says a lot about the kid and what his hunger is for this game."

Some mid-major colleges such as UTEP have already started heavily recruiting Henderson. Alabama sends letters to Neuse every week. And Boston College assistant coach Nat Graham visited Raleigh a month ago to see Henderson in person. Telep says this summer's AAU play, against much tougher competition, will be Henderson's most significant opportunity to convince a major Division I school to offer him a scholarship.

Although Henderson has scored more than 2,000 points, Telep knows there's more to recruiting than scoring points in a weak league.

"That's an amazing feat," he said. "But that alone doesn't get you a college scholarship."

The leader leads

Before each Neuse practice, Adrian gives his players a lesson from coaching legend John Wooden. Adrian carries the book "The Wisdom of Wooden" with him wherever he goes. Some messages are on what it takes to be a champion, others on the discipline it took for UCLA's men's basketball program to win 88 consecutive games.

But a few weeks ago, the Lions were becoming less of a team. After winning two state titles and the NCSAA Division III national championship last season, individual performance had become more important than wins.

Adrian noticed players weren't making the extra pass - a staple of Wooden's philosophy of teamwork.

Adrian brought all 11 players into his office and closed the door. He wasn't opening the door until the players vowed to become a team again. Adrian was making his point when Henderson, urgency in his voice, told his teammates to stop being selfish.

"We're going to look at each other and be honest," Henderson said. "Guys, we're going to join hands right now and pray together and go forward together."

Adrian was shocked.

That's the story Adrian will tell recruiters when they're considering Henderson to help build their program - something he already has done at Neuse.

"My eighth-grade year was really the start of this basketball program," Henderson said. "We've come a long way."

Adrian will say the same about Henderson.

nate.taylor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4538

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