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The Future Is Scoot

He isn’t 7-foot-4, but Scoot Henderson has always stood out. More importantly, he’s never been afraid to be different. To Scoot, safe is risky. “You’re not following anybody’s footsteps,” he says. “You’re being the leader of yourself.”

Dan Evans

Scoot Henderson dribbles an imaginary basketball between his legs. He pump-fakes, one, two, three times, as if he were in a real game, and pulls up for a jumper at the elbow.

But he isn’t on the hardwood. He’s standing in the middle of an empty parking lot outside of a high school in Henderson, Nevada. It’s cold and windy on this November morning. He and his G League Ignite teammates are waiting outside the gym for another team to finish practicing.

Some Ignite players huddle in their cars to stay warm. Henderson doesn’t want to waste a waking second, so the 6-foot-2 point guard continues his shadow dribbling across the concrete, working up a sweat. It’s unconscious, the way the 18-year-old’s hand naturally reaches to cross over the ball. Dribbling, for him, is brainstorming. “I’m really just thinking about everything,” Henderson says.

Sometimes he thinks of shots he could have made. Mistakes he shouldn’t have committed. Henderson is a perfectionist with an insatiable drive; he’ll pick himself and his shortcomings apart quicker than any coach can. On this morning, he’s eager to devour tape of his errors from the team’s loss the night before. “I love watching me mess up,” he says.

I gotta be great, he often thinks to himself. But he wants to be more than that; he wants to become one of the best to ever play. That means constantly trying to bridge the gap between where he is and where he wants to be. Right now he’s the projected no. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA draft. For many, that would be enough—especially considering the projected top pick is a generational prospect. But for Scoot, it gnaws at him. As the team finally shuffles into the gym and the film session begins, Ignite coach Jason Hart shows clip after clip of his players getting outworked on the glass for rebounds. “No box-out, no box-out, no box-out!” Hart says. Then he singles out Scoot: “That’s you. Look at your box-out.”

Henderson nods. His coach is right. He doesn’t take his gaze off the screen for even a second. Scoot has been dissecting film since he was a little kid. Chris, his father and longtime coach, had him watch for hours with his older siblings, all high-level basketball players themselves. Scoot, the second youngest of seven, was given his nickname as a baby for the way he used to scoot across the floor, but his real name is Sterling. During those film sessions little Scoot never fidgeted, never complained.

Growing up he prided himself on being an observer. A learner. A listener. Nowadays he’s most often praised for his explosiveness on the court, his incredible burst and athleticism. But he’s also introspective and curious. He often meditates. He loves to read. “It can make me a better person,” says Scoot, who often shares his favorite book passages in the family group chat. He’s always been a reader, but the hobby turned into a habit last season when Scoot suddenly had more free time than ever in his first pro season, and realized he couldn’t spend every waking minute on the court. “He reads all the time. He’s always in his room,” says Ignite teammate Shareef O’Neal, “locked in on a book.”

One of Scoot’s favorite books is Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, given to him by his eldest sister, Diamond, who said she sees so much of her brother in the book. On the surface, The New York Times bestseller is about business and marketing, but it’s really about standing out. Being a vibrant, purple cow in a pasture of boring, brown cows. The purple cow, Godin writes, dares to be remarkable, to take risks. To be something so extraordinary that nobody has seen it before.

It is purple, after all.

Henderson was hooked, flipping each page, feeling seen. Understood.

“When Scoot was little, a baby, we could just tell that he was different,” Diamond says. “He just had this certain purple to him.” It was the way he worked harder than everyone. It was the way he seemed so much older than he was, prompting his siblings to call him “old man.” It was the way he had a mentality of: Oh you think that guy’s better? Let me show you I’m better. It’s why his family wasn’t surprised when he bypassed his senior year of high school to sign with the Ignite in May 2021, becoming the youngest American professional basketball player ever at age 17.

After completing the necessary credits to graduate a year early from Kell High School in Marietta, Georgia, he signed a two-year, $1 million deal. He believed blazing a new path was the best option for him to reach the NBA even if others didn’t always see his vision.

“Why is it so hard to be purple?” Godin writes. “The Cow is so rare because people are afraid.”

Though he was a consensus five-star recruit—ESPN ranked him no. 7 overall in the 2022 class—some viewed his pioneering decision to enter the G League as risky. Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deals didn’t exist yet. But Scoot was thinking ahead. He followed a mantra his parents, Crystal and Chris, instilled in him since he was a child: “Be true to yourself. Be confident in who you are.”

Scoot was never afraid to stand out. To be purple. When he was 7, he cut up a tube sock and made it into a makeshift compression sleeve. It didn’t matter how unusual it looked; he felt like the coolest player in the gym. Scoot laughs at the memory and looks down at his green and pink crocs, bright as his smile. He’s tacked charms onto the pair: an alien, a basketball, a chemistry vial, and the letters “OD.” It’s supposed to spell “ODD” but the last “D” recently fell off.

“ODD” is a motto he created: “Overly Determined to Dominate”; and “odd,” as in unique. “My path isn’t the generic path. It’s an odd path,” he says.

“You’re not following anybody’s footsteps,” he says. “You’re being the leader of yourself, whether anybody follows you or not, you’re still being who you really want to be.”

Scoot has always been sure of himself, but now his surroundings are shifting. Strangers recognize him. People want things from him. The demands will only grow when he joins the NBA. His family can sense the changes. “He’s grown so fast,” says China, his sister. It’s frightening, it’s exciting. Surreal.

Chris often reminds Scoot: “Your life is about to change crazy. In a minute you’re not about to be able to walk around here. You better enjoy it now.”

Scoot still sees himself as a normal kid, though his life is anything but. He’s growing up in front of millions. He sees how fleeting the attention is. People come up to him while he’s out walking his pitbull, Xero, or hanging with friends, asking if he’s really Scoot Henderson. “When people start to give into [fame], that’s when they start not focusing on the main thing, and that’s grinding and being the best player you could possibly be,” he says. “I try to never forget the main goal.”

But being so close to that goal is also thrilling to him. Around midnight the night before, unwinding after the Ignite’s game, he received an Instagram direct message from one of his favorite players: Damian Lillard. “Crazy,” Scoot says, beaming. He had originally reached out to the Trail Blazers star in 2021 asking for advice: “Yo, Damian Lillard. I’m Scoot Henderson. I was just wondering if you can give me some free game on shooting the next shot, and not worry about the last one?” Scoot was struggling to let mistakes go, berating himself, trying so hard to be perfect. Trying to be great.

Scoot tries to play it cool when he reads Lillard’s response. “He was telling me that he messes with my game,” Scoot says. “He’s like, ‘I seen you play’!” Lillard told him to not get caught up in missed shots: “Shoot that shit like you know it’s going in.”

Scoot is already studying the NBA stars he’ll go up against next fall, replaying clips of Ja Morant and Chris Paul. He fixates on tiny details: how they come off screens, who is helping on the backside. He watches his idol, Kobe Bryant, too, inspired by why Kobe played so hard, even through injury. Kobe once said that there might be somebody who saved up their money to fly in from somewhere, and can only come to see him that one game. Scoot has embraced that sentiment, not wanting to disappoint that one person.

“When you come see me,” Scoot says, “you gonna see a show.”

There is a maturity to Scoot, a veteran understanding. Even when his shot is off, he finds a way to contribute. Like Kobe, he doesn’t care which opponent is in front of him; he’s going to compete. He’s so locked in before games that he has on “the Look,” as his parents call it. He’s there, but not there. He gives one-word answers. “He has this mean, nasty streak,” Hart says. “He becomes that little boxer.”

That mindset starts from the moment he wakes up, as it did when he was a child, playing football, his first love. Little Scoot would be fully dressed in his uniform and pads at 6 a.m. for a 4 p.m. game, stomping on the stairway: BOOM BOOM CLAP! BOOM BOOM CLAP!”

The Look showed up again in October, hours before the Ignite faced off against Metropolitans 92 and projected 2023 no. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-2 French sensation. The matchup was hyped as a battle between the consensus no. 1 and no. 2 picks in the 2023 NBA draft, but Scoot didn’t get caught up in the hoopla. His dad taught him to not care about names or rankings. Scoot’s motto in high school, when facing a top prospect, was: Wake ’em up, let ’em know. Scoot barely spoke that day. Didn’t look at social media. Didn’t even give his mom their customary pregame bear hug.

He was ready to put on a show, and did just that, dropping 28 points and nine assists in the Ignite’s 122-115 victory. Though Wembanyama also dazzled, generating one jaw-dropping clip after another, Scoot’s full offensive repertoire was also on display: his quickness, his creativity, his efficiency. Scoot’s a blur in the open floor yet always under control, making the right reads.

“I know that the world is loving Victor right now,” Hart says, “but I think Scoot may end up having a better career.” Hart admits his bias, but explains that his stance has more to do with Scoot’s mentality than talent. “He works like he’s not a good player,” Hart says.

“He has a phobia about his game,” Hart says, meaning that Scoot is in constant fear he won’t live up to his own expectations. He acts as if he’s fighting to make JV and not like a young star who just signed a multiyear deal with Puma.

As high as Scoot’s ceiling is, Hart tries to remind people: “He’s only 18. I think a lot of people forget.” But Scoot doesn’t want to bring up his age. In his eyes, he has to mature now. Prove that he can blossom now. “They don’t care if you’re 18,” Scoot says, quoting Hart. “They don’t care if you just came out of high school.”

At the same time, he is only 18. He loves mini rice krispies and his grandma Essie Craig’s homemade pancakes. He’ll randomly start breakdancing. “He’s still got that little bit of kid in him,” says CJ, his brother.

Staying in close communication with family and friends is a priority, but it’s not easy living the nomadic life of a professional basketball player, hopping from event to event. “That’s probably the toughest part,” Scoot says, “is just staying my age, but also being older than I am.”

These days, Scoot is thinking about what it means to be a leader, not just a point guard. He’s trying to be more vocal, because he knows when he reaches the NBA he’ll be expected to lead a team and manage different personalities—including teammates much older than him. He has to ditch his comfort zone. He returns to his book.

“The lesson of the Cow,” Godin writes, “is worth repeating: Safe is risky.”

“In exchange for taking the risk—the risk of failure or ridicule or unfulfilled dreams,” Godin continues, “the creator of the Purple Cow gets a huge upside when she gets it right.”

Scoot is inching closer to getting it “right” in small, quiet moments with the Ignite, such as during a recent clash against the Oklahoma City Blue. Scoot took teammate Efe Abogidi aside late in the game and put his arms on Abogidi’s shoulders.

“Keep going. You’re killing it,” Scoot told him.

He didn’t say that just because Abogidi was having a good game, but because he remembered that Hart had been pushing Abogidi hard all week at practice. Scoot wanted to let his teammate know: I see you. Way to bounce back.

“[Scoot] wants to make you better,” Abogidi says.

During a press conference earlier this season, reporters asked Scoot question after question, for five minutes straight. He looked at forward Sidy Cissoko, sitting silently next to him at the podium. “Y’all don’t got any questions for Sidy?” before dapping him up.

Scoot seems to always be in tune with how others are feeling. He fist-bumps everyone in the gym, from the strength coach to team security guard, scanning the bleachers one last time afterward to make sure he didn’t miss anybody. If the mood feels down, he’ll blurt out a sentence so quickly it sounds like one word: “OHYALLMADSTILL!?” cracking everybody up.

Part of being a leader, too, is embracing the fact that he’s still learning. He’s working on changing his pace sometimes. Slowing down a bit. “Use your speed as your superpower,” Hart tells him, likening Scoot’s burst to driving a car. “If you drive fast all the time, you’ll get into a car accident.”

Chris Paul recently spoke with the Ignite when it held a minicamp in Phoenix. Paul told players to read not just the man in front of them, or even the screener, but the person on the backside; the person watching everything. Scoot was riveted. “I’ve learned more [in the G League] than I’ve learned in the whatever-many years I’ve played basketball,” Scoot says.

He first peered onto a basketball court at just 2 weeks old. He lay bundled in Crystal’s arms in the bleachers when she began taking him to his siblings’ games. Three of his sisters ended up playing Division I basketball: Diamond at Syracuse, and Onyx and China at Cal State Fullerton. CJ played basketball in high school and Jade, the oldest brother, played football. Their youngest sister, Crystal, who goes by Moochie, is currently a top-ranked basketball prospect.

But when little Scoot first picked up a ball in elementary school? He hated it. He’d burst into tears when he had to go to practice. He wanted to be on the football field. His older brothers would hit him hard in drills but Scoot, playing a few age groups up, had no choice but to hit back.

He’d muster the same strength on the basketball court, as his siblings dominated him in the post. The Hendersons would play pickup games on the concrete courts at a local park until the sky turned black. Games led to fighting or not speaking for weeks.

Oddly enough, Scoot always looked bigger than he was. Sometimes during youth football games, other parents yelled: “Check his birth certificate!”

As a third grader, Scoot was the starting point guard on Chris’s sixth-grade team. Scoot had to learn how to hold his own against bigger, stronger, faster boys. He couldn’t make excuses. He certainly couldn’t cry. He started falling in love with hoops, but he also liked tennis, playing without a net but hitting the ball as hard as he could. “I wanted to be Federer,” Scoot says. He was on track to pursue football seriously but decided to stick with basketball. He loved it more.

Crystal and Chris didn’t sugarcoat anything. If Scoot made an error Chris wouldn’t even let Scoot trot back to the timeout huddle; Chris would meet him at half court, lighting into him.

Eventually they would laugh about the mistakes. Sometimes on the ride home, sometimes not until the next game. But they didn’t need anyone else; they had each other.

Crystal and Chris were always there. During those outdoor pickup battles, they had bug spray and fold-out chairs. And when the lines on the court disappeared, sunset folding into night, they’d sit in their Ford Expedition with the engine on, shining the car lights so the kids could keep playing. No matter how tired Crystal and Chris were, they stayed up, wanting their kids to know:

They were loved.

There was something about Scoot that felt different, even to his early coaches. “Not human,” says his AAU coach, Parrish Johnson. Scoot spent so much time in the gym that Parrish began calling him Cyborg: “The kid would keep a different level of intensity long after everybody else quit.”

It didn’t matter how tired he was or how much pain he was in, he was determined to dominate any drill, including the time when his leg was cramping so severely one could see it from the sideline. Scoot, refusing to show even a wince of grimace, wouldn’t stop. By high school, Scoot was clearly talented. “He was always the best athlete on the floor,” says Jermaine Sellers, his former Kell High coach. “His anticipation, his ballhandling skills, were always on point.”

The college offers, however, were slow to roll in. Scoot would see his peers get offers and feel discouraged. He couldn’t figure out what he was doing wrong. His parents told him that all he could control was himself and to keep working.

Sure enough, college offers eventually flooded in, as the landscape of amateur hoops was beginning to shift. Alternative routes such as the G League and Overtime Elite were popping up, and some athletes headed overseas. When Scoot was about 15 and a half, he received his first pro offer, from a team in China.

He decided immediately, without hesitation or fear: “I’m going. … I gotta be great,” he says.

His parents, however, told him to slow down. To consider that he’d be away from family and friends. “You’re too young,” they told him. He turned down the offer. Scoot, a person of faith, felt God had told him to be more patient, and that there was a different path for him.

He listened to his siblings, who had gone through the grind of big-time college basketball. They saw firsthand how athletes could be treated as bodies. How monotonous the college grind was. How one had to be responsible for one’s own happiness.

That’s something Grandma Essie told all of them, but particularly Scoot: “You gotta be happy.”

As Scoot weighed his options, which included Auburn and Georgia, he realized his decision wasn’t just about finding the right team, but the right environment. He had to be happy with his choice, and the G League felt right to him. “My gut feeling was to do it,” he says. He just couldn’t see himself in college, and he wanted to challenge himself against the best competition and felt this option could help him grow as a player.

Many didn’t realize that he had indeed graduated high school in three years, working around the clock to complete his courses, including taking extra math classes and showing up for extra tutoring. “In between practices, in between workouts, after school, at the gym, wherever it was, he was dedicated,” says Davana Silva-Rose, a Kell math teacher who helped him.

Scoot remained grounded after accepting the seven-figure Ignite deal. He still never corrected his teachers when they called him Sterling. “The most humble kid I’ve ever met,” says Lindsay Hazard, his 10th grade honors world history teacher. Every morning, he’d still fetch coffee for assistant principal Oneisha Young. He was one of the first to show up to school. He never wanted to be behind.

The adjustment to pro basketball wasn’t easy at first. It’s never easy for a teenager, even one ahead of his years. Back in 2021, the Ignite had an early-morning flight for a road game. Scoot had to be out of his apartment at 5 a.m. His friends back home had gone to prom a few mere weeks before; they weren’t rising before the sun, they were planning hangouts and taking vacations.

The then-17-year-old was so nervous he wouldn’t wake up in time that he pulled an all-nighter, sitting upright in a wooden chair.

3 a.m … still awake.

4 a.m … still awake.

And then his worst fear happened: He conked out. He missed the flight. “I never want to be that person,” he says, though he did end up making the game. “Just terrible.” He’s embarrassed at the memory; of how young he was then, even if it was only a year ago.

The growing pains continued. He missed his family. Accustomed to always being around siblings, he had never felt so alone. He was playing as hard as he could but didn’t feel like himself. He held on to mistakes.

“Just frustration, for real. Being young,” Scoot says. He pauses. He doesn’t like using that word, young. “I don’t like to blame everything on being young at all.”

What he really felt, deep down? “I wasn’t really happy.”

He remembered his grandmother’s words: You gotta be happy. Essie would call him and remind him to stay the course. “This is just the beginning,” she said. Perspective.

He remembered why he plays basketball in the first place: It gives him joy. His family started visiting regularly. With his support system back in place, his spirits started to lift, and he thrived on the floor.

When he signed the Puma deal earlier this year, he realized how far he had come. It was surreal, sitting on a private jet flying back to Georgia to celebrate. Everyone turned to Scoot, begging: “Speech! Speech! Speech!”

Scoot walked to the front. Rather than take a victory lap, he felt immense gratitude. “I just want to thank God,” he said, before his voice started to crack. He looked as if he might cry. He sat down, gathering himself. He looked at his family, the people that loved him whether he made a shot, missed a shot. He thought of how many teammates he knew over the years whose parents never came to a single game. Never said I’m proud of you.

“I wouldn’t be able to deal without you guys. I know we worked hard,” Scoot continued.

We. His journey has always been theirs. Everyone started crying. And when Scoot finally returned to his apartment, thinking of the months ahead, the years ahead, he told his family:

“Just know I’m always thinking about y’all. Whether I’m here. Wherever. Just know I’m always thinking about y’all.”

Scoot recently held a camp for young kids at Next Play 360°, the multipurpose gym his parents own and run in Marietta. One of the reasons they named it so was a reminder to Scoot to move on to the next play. He’s gotten much better at that over the last year, and wanted the campers to know he understood that drive. Scoot didn’t just show up; he participated in half of the drills. “He was at the campus like one of the participants,” says camper Joshua McClure, 11. He judged the dunk contest, too. He gave the kids advice. Told them to keep their heads up, and believe in themselves. He was exhausted afterward but kept shooting, wanting them to see that he, too, is a work in progress.

He still does a drill he’s been doing since he was a kid called “16 Minutes of Death.”

He has to make a move at a series of cones before making a game-speed layup, over and over.

“Keep pushing!” he tells himself, imagining the NBA defenders he’ll soon face bumping him. He’s nearly out of breath, his calves are shot. He could slow down on the last set. No one’s watching. No one would know. Plenty of others might have quit.

Not the purple cow.

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