The first day of class is usually the easiest for most college students, but Harrison Henderson realized that wasn’t the case when he stepped into his first lecture at USC.
Instead of reviewing the course syllabus for 15 minutes and dismissing class early, Henderson’s professor made sure the students knew going to class at Southern Cal is anything but easy.
“The first day of school, the teacher told me to read like, 75 pages,” Henderson said. “I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is the first day. What’s up, what’s going on with this?’ I had a class where I had to write a 12-page paper then four days later study for an exam with 80 questions and a five-page written paper, so the work is no joke over here.”
The first day of practice was no joke, either. Despite playing at the 6A level for South Grand Prairie High School, the difference in talent was made evident to Henderson immediately.
“Coming in, the first workouts, they were tough,” he said. “The level of competition is extremely high. Nobody is bad. Everybody is good. Everybody works hard. Everybody has skill.”
This year’s Trojans team is more than just hard-working and skilled. They’re one of the top teams in the country, boasting a 14-1 record to start the year and are ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll.
“I knew there was going to be people ahead of me that were bigger, stronger, smarter on the court. It was kind of a blessing in disguise, having to sit behind them. But I’m learning from them every day. They’re helping me with little things. I think that’s the good thing about it, ’cause you can take bits and pieces of other people and include them in your game, and that makes you a higher level ball player, too.”
At 6’10, Henderson is a raw talent with immense potential, but the USC coaching staff is being patient as they develop him. He’s appeared in seven games, averaging two points and two rebounds in just five minutes of action per game.
Even though he hasn’t seen a lot of playing time, Henderson has been training as if he were the team’s starting power forward.
“I’m working as if I am a starter right now just so that when my time does come, I’m ready,” he said. “This is a business and you have to make stuff happen when you get out there every time. I’m waiting on my time, but continuing to be the good teammate that I am. I’m happy with the success this team has had so far.”
While Henderson has settled into his role in January, it was a tough transition coming from South Grand Prairie to one of the elite programs in the PAC-12 Conference.
“Early on, it started off kind of feeling like a basketball camp,” he said. “When you’re out of state, you’re trying to just find a way to fit in. Then reality kicks in that you’re really on your own, and it’s time to grow up.”
It’s hard to imagine a 6’10 athlete needing to grow up, but with the new level of competition combined with the academic rigor of a prestigious institution 1,500 miles from home, the world will undoubtedly force you to mature a bit.
Still, Henderson said he has no issues with the way things are going.
“I have nothing to complain about,” he said. “I’m at a great school, a great program, with great teammates and coaches. I’m just following behind them working hard.”
It doesn’t hurt living in Los Angeles, either.
“It’s beautiful out here,” he said. “You really can’t go wrong with southern California.”
Now halfway through his freshman year at a Division I program, Henderson has gained perspective on high school basketball in Texas. He said if he could give advice to some of the top seniors in the state, he’d tell them to be humble and get ready to work.
“When you’re one of the top players in Texas, your ego is probably a little bit high,” he said. “You probably think ‘Ah man, I got this in the bag.’ College is a whole different level. And it’s something hard to understand until you get put in the fire. So I always tell people stay humble.
“Know that you’re not going to be the best player from day one. That’s what you’re going to have to learn. You’re going to be pushed. Be able to take in the coaching. Be ready to work day in and day out. Minimize your excuses. Don’t have any days where you’re pouting or complaining. Just come ready to work.”