Sports: WNBA Draft: Destanni Henderson riding NCAA title game stardom to pro ball and national celebrity

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, Fla. — Destanni Henderson has gone from a WNBA prospect to a possible first-rounder. All it took was 40 minutes.

The Fort Myers High School graduate has seen a career-best performance in the final game of her South Carolina career, a 64-49 NCAA championship game victory over UConn, reverberating in her pursuits as a professional basketball player, social media personality, and entrepreneur.

"It's still busy, still living in the moment, and people are so excited, especially coming back to school," Henderson said Friday. "It feels really good to be back on campus and to feel the love that everybody has for our team and what we've accomplished."

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Henderson won't be in Columbia, South Carolina, long as she is one of only 12 players invited to New York City to attend Monday night's WNBA Draft (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Gamecocks' point guard was not included in the first wave of invitees and her mother Joyel James called her Wednesday to see if she had any news. Somebody must have been listening.

Apr 3, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks guard Destanni Henderson (3) celebrates the 64-49 victory over the UConn Huskies in the Final Four championship game of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports © Kirby Lee, Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Apr 3, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks guard Destanni Henderson (3) celebrates the 64-49 victory over the UConn Huskies in the Final Four championship game of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

"I was actually cleaning my home," said Henderson. "I'm just preparing myself because I will be graduating and leaving at some point. And (the WNBA) called me and it's crazy. My mom called me about 30 minutes before they ended up calling me. She had seen where another player got invited. 'Did you hear anything?'

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"They didn't reach out to me. I was just keeping things in a good, positive mindset. If it happens, it happens. Thirty minutes later they ended up calling me."

Not just one shining moment

The invite came three days after Henderson had a game for the ages. She scored a career-high 26 points vs. UConn, which included three 3-pointers in the first half and six key points in the fourth quarter when the Huskies made a run. She also stepped up defensively against All-American Paige Bueckers, holding her to 14 points and just five after halftime.

UConn's Paige Bueckers tries to get past South Carolina's Destanni Henderson during the first half of a college basketball game in the final round of the Women's Final Four NCAA tournament Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) © The Associated Press UConn's Paige Bueckers tries to get past South Carolina's Destanni Henderson during the first half of a college basketball game in the final round of the Women's Final Four NCAA tournament Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

And America watched as Henderson made sure the Gamecocks would be national champions. A combined audience of 4.85 million viewers made last Sunday's game the most-watched women's championship in 18 years.

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"It just showed what I'm capable of in special moments, just doing whatever I need to do to win the basketball game, whether it's offense or defense, or both," said Henderson, who was selected to the all-tournament team. "I feel like I played both sides of the ball really, really well, which was an eye-opener."

That certainly was the case for ESPN's two WNBA analysts, LaChina Robinson and Rebecca Lobo.

"Her stock went way up," Robinson said in a conference call Thursday. "I think whenever you have a player that can show up on the big stage when their number is called or their team needs some momentum, that's exciting for WNBA coaches and GMs, someone that can perform at a high level under the bright lights."

Apr 3, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks guard Destanni Henderson (3) drives to the basket against the UConn Huskies during the first half in the Final Four championship game of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports © Kirby Lee, Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Apr 3, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks guard Destanni Henderson (3) drives to the basket against the UConn Huskies during the first half in the Final Four championship game of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Added Lobo: "Every time there was a big game this season, she stepped up and played well and disrupted things on both ends of the floor."

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Henderson said she's had interviews with three WNBA teams in the past couple of days.

"It's basically recruiting all over again," she said, with a chuckle.

Robinson and Lobo believe whatever team drafts Henderson is getting someone special, and her national title game performance only reinforced that.

"We knew she was quick," Robinson said. "You know about her leadership at the point guard spot and how fast she is. She changes the game on both ends, both defensively and offensively. But I think her ability to knock down the 3-point shot is something that definitely catches the eye of GMs and coaches and the league and what she can do at the next level."

Building on her brand

Fort Myers High girls basketball coach Chad Terrell has watched Henderson continue to blossom after she guided three of his Green Wave teams to state titles (2016-18) and was named the 2018 Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Basketball and a McDonald's All-American.

"I'm just happy for her," he said. "That's why most coaches coach because they want to see kids fulfill their dreams of playing at the next level, get a college scholarship, get a college degree. You've got to put in a lot of hard work and make a lot of sacrifices to get to where she is. To see that, I'm glad I can just sit back and be a fan of it."

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Staying in a positive mindset served her well at South Carolina, where she didn't get much playing time until the past two seasons. She was rewarded with two Final Four appearances and a national championship.

Henderson hasn't shown patience in another area, though. After the national championship game, she was coincidentally ready to debut something more from her clothing line. She started Clothing by HP (Hennything's Possible, tying into her "Henny" nickname) during the coronavirus pandemic.

Destanni Henderson models the jacket she released for her clothing line Clothing by HP (Hennything's Possible, tying into her © Courtesy photo Destanni Henderson models the jacket she released for her clothing line Clothing by HP (Hennything's Possible, tying into her "Henny" nickname) just before the NCAA Tournament.

She started selling a new jacket with the slogan "Born a star and can't tell me otherwise" on the back on March 18. After the title game, she made another post with her in the outfit Thursday because her personal Instagram had taken off from 98,000 to 130,000 followers. Her clothing line account is at almost 16,000 followers.

The post of her in the jacket has almost 25,000 likes on her personal Instagram.

"It actually helped quite a bit," Henderson said of the title-game performance transitioning to interest in her clothing line. "My followers shot through the roof. (The 30,000-plus jump) is quite a bit of people following and my fan base, and recognition with my brand as well."

The unveiling of the jacket was not timed with the start of the NCAA Tournament.

"It just so happened to be perfect timing," she said. "I'm able to bring something I knew that I wanted to wear and exploit my brand as well. That was the perfect piece."

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In another coincidence, Henderson is heading to one of the fashion capitals of the world.

"I'm just going to continue to do what I'm doing and just gain as much information as I can," she said. "I want to just express myself.

"I feel like nothing is really going to change, but only change for the better."

Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at [email protected] Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: WNBA Draft: Destanni Henderson riding NCAA title game stardom to pro ball and national celebrity

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