The South Carolina Gamecocks (12-1) are perhaps the best team in women’s college basketball, and they’re certainly one of the country’s strongest programs. Head coach Dawn Staley has turned South Carolina into a national superpower, regularly landing some of basketball’s top recruits, such as center Aliyah Boston and shooting guard Zia Cooke.
While Boston and Cooke, both juniors, will certainly be discussed heavily as WNBA prospects prior to the 2023 WNBA Draft, right now it’s senior point guard Destanni Henderson’s turn, and she has a strong case to be drafted to the league next spring.
Henderson — or “Henny,” as she’s affectionately known among Gamecocks faithful — was plugged into South Carolina’s starting lineup upon Tyasha Harris’ graduation in 2020, and the team has gone a combined 38-6 since then. The 5-foot-7 product of Fort Myers, Fla. has made a name for herself as one of the country’s most dynamic point guards; that, coupled with her team’s undeniable success, makes her a must-watch WNBA prospect heading into 2022.
Honors and statistics
The nation’s No. 6 overall recruit — and No. 1 point guard — in 2018, Henderson enjoyed immediate success as a Gamecock, starting nine games and earning SEC All-Freshman Team honors in her first season. She was then named to the SEC All-Tournament Teams as both a sophomore and a junior, with the latter honor coming as a full-time starter; Henderson averaged 12.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game in 2020-21.
Prior to the 2021-22 season, Henderson was named to preseason watch lists for both the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award, as well as the preseason watch list for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which is given to the country’s top point guard. Henderson was also named to the 2021-22 Preseason All-America Second Team by USA Today.
Internationally, Henderson has been a part of USA Basketball since 2015, when she participated in trials for the USA U16 National Team. She won a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship, and in 2021 won gold as part of a loaded USA roster in the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup.
How she helps the Gamecocks
Having succeeded a popular and successful point guard in Harris, many eyes have been on Henderson as South Carolina’s “X-factor,” especially as the Gamecocks roll into the new year as one of the favorites to compete for the 2022 national championship. Boston may be the team’s best player, but her steadiness, in a way, amplifies the importance of a guard like Henderson: When she’s playing well, South Carolina is nearly impossible to beat.
Henderson’s most obvious strength is her speed with the basketball, and it’s fully reflected in how she’s used in South Carolina’s offense. As a junior, an incredible 39.2 percent of Henderson’s offensive possessions came in transition (Synergy Sports) — a critical figure for a Gamecocks team that often faces conservative, paint-bound defenses that try to neutralize its size when it can’t get out and run.
Needless to say, getting out and running is not a problem for Henderson. Staley praised her point guard’s effort in a recent South Carolina win over Stanford — a game in which Henderson recorded 17 points, seven assists and seven steals — citing her ability to “jump-start” the team’s offense and adding that she brings a “different dimension” to the Gamecocks with her speed and defense at the point of attack.
While Henderson is good for a few highlight reel plays every time she takes the court thanks to her quick hands and even quicker feet, she’s far from a one-dimensional player. Her jumpshooting has quietly improved over the years, and as a senior her jumpshot has been both versatile and effective, ranking in the 93rd percentile in scoring efficiency on both off-dribble and catch and shoot jumpers (Synergy Sports). Continuing to knock down these shots will be key for Henderson as defenses scheme to keep her out of the paint, and a well-rounded scoring package will certainly make her more appealing to the eyes of WNBA coaches and general managers looking for a guard in next year’s draft.
Watch her play
The SEC season is officially underway, which means there’s no shortage of big-time matchups on the docket for South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ first nationally-televised game of 2022 will be on Jan. 9 against Rhyne Howard and the Kentucky Wildcats (ESPN), and they’ll later have several more against Mississippi State (Feb. 6; ESPN2), Kentucky (Feb. 10; ESPN) and Georgia (Feb. 13; ESPN2).
South Carolina will also get another shot at the UConn Huskies, who the Gamecocks beat handily back in November, on Jan. 27 (ESPN). It’ll be a prime opportunity for Henderson to showcase her skills against fellow guard and WNBA prospect Evina Westbrook.
All statistics and team records for the 2021-22 season are current through Dec. 31, 2021.