First-year Isaiah Henderson makes impact on men’s basketball team with high free throw percentage

His father introduced him to the game but it was Isaiah Henderson’s own hard work and dedication that lead to the player he is today. Henderson began playing basketball when he was 5 years old and progressed to play through middle school, high school and now college.

“Ball kept me off the streets,” Henderson said. “I’m from a hard area in Queens and basketball was my way out; instead of being on the streets with other kids from my neighborhood, selling drugs and everything else.”

Henderson, ’18, an economics major, is a point guard for the Allegheny men’s basketball team. Though only 19 years old, Henderson, a member of the Amateur Athletic Union, has seen more of the United States than most teens his age. Basketball has taken this New York native to Virginia, Connecticut, all of the New England states and down to Florida for championship victories.

As a first-year, Henderson has already begun to make some headlines highlighting his skill for free throws and rebounds.

“I had to work at it,” Henderson said. “I was talented, because I had big hands and big feet at an early age. And I could always rebound the ball well.”

Henderson honed his raw talent into skill through years of practice on various teams, and earned an honorable mention in the North Eastern Recruiting Report, a sportsmanship award and titled Most Valuable Player by the Armature Athletic Union. Though he acknowledged his natural abilities, Henderson was still aware of the things that he needed to work on to transform himself from a good player to a great player.

“I had to work on my scoring and stuff like that, being a leader,” Henderson said.

Henderson does not have a specific ritual before games, instead he does whatever feels natural for that day.

“Sometimes I pray, I read quotes from the bible,” Henderson said. “Sometimes I listen to music or take a nap.”

Henderson said his role model is Kobe Bryant. According to Henderson, Bryant was the first person he saw play basketball and was a justifiably confident risk-taker with a genuine love for the game.

While Henderson said he takes basketball very seriously and chooses Bryant, a professional NBA star with five championship rings and two Olympic gold medals, as his motivation, Henderson doesn’t want to pursue basketball as a career.

“If I could I would, but most likely, in reality I’m not going pro,” Henderson said. “There’s a lot of people out there who’s better than me.”

While Henderson cannot see himself going into the NBA, he does consider a professional basketball career overseas a more realistic possibility.

According to Jim Driggs, head coach of the men’s basketball team, Henderson has a great personality to match his skill. Driggs said that he sees Henderson as someone who will only gain responsibility in the future.

“I love Isaiah,” said Driggs. “Isaiah is a great kid. He’s someone that I think, over his four years here, will be a very integral part of our program and he continues to get better every day.”

The game has not left Henderson completely unharmed. Last year, on his high school team at Pomfret School in Connecticut, Henderson suffered a strained Achilles tendon and a high ankle strain that kept him from eight games over the course of about two months. Though it did not keep him from any championships, Henderson values every opportunity to be on the court.

“Every game is important to me,” Henderson said. “There were two games where college coaches were looking at other players on other teams, and I just wanted to show out and I didn’t have the opportunity to.”

His injury, however, has not held him back. Henderson’s skill on the court is apparent to his friends who watch from the stands.

“He’s very smart for a first-year basketball player,” Nadja Knox, ’18 said. “He doesn’t fear taking a shot or driving to the basket.”
Henderson’s statistics prove Knox’s praise to be true. Having been an Allegheny Gator for only five games, Henderson has a free throw percentage of .750 and an average of 0.8 rebounds per game.

On Nov. 15, the season opener against the University of Pittsburgh Titusville, Henderson helped lead the Gators to victory by solidifying a 30-point win with two free throws and only 30 seconds left on the clock.

“He takes a lot of risks on the court,” Toni Donofrio, ’18, said. “It seems to me that he is an important part of the team, even though he’s a first year.”
While Henderson plays with skill and proficiency, he does not lack exhibiting some personal touches to his technique.

“Isaiah plays with his heart, and it’s evident every time he steps on the court,” Chloe Spadafora, ’18, said.