Destanni Henderson puts draft-night expectations in rearview mirror as part of Fever’s new-look lineup

Destanni Henderson #33 of the Indiana Fever dribbles the ball during the game against the Washington Mystics.
Getty Images
0 Comments

Ahead of the 2022 WNBA Draft, 10 top prospects were invited to New York to attend the event in-person. And as the second round of the draft was nearly over, only one of those 10 – Destanni Henderson – hadn’t yet heard her name called.

Henderson, who was just over a week removed from helping South Carolina win the program’s second NCAA title, admits now that she was a little surprised when she wasn’t selected in the first round.

But 600 miles away from New York, the Indiana Fever’s war room was thrilled that the 5-foot-7 point guard had been overlooked by the other teams.

“We didn’t draft her, we grabbed her,” said Fever GM Lin Dunn.

The Fever were in high speed on draft night, making history as the first franchise to make four picks in the top 10. With the No. 2 overall pick, the Fever chose Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith, followed by Louisville’s Emily Engstler at No. 4, Stanford’s Lexie Hull at No. 6 and another Baylor product in Queen Egbo at No. 10.

And when Indiana’s turn came around again, they pounced Henderson, who averaged 43-percent shooting and 5.1 assists in her junior season and 40.3 and 3.9 as a senior.

“We had already decided to take the best point guard available at 20,” Dunn added. “And we certainly hadn’t expected her to be there. But we were thrilled that she was.”

Henderson says Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley reassured her on draft night that her draft number wasn’t important.

“She told me that I’m in a good position because Indiana is rebuilding,” Henderson said. “They’re looking for people to come in the organization and make a change, make a difference, and win basketball games.”

Just a week-and-a-half into training camp, Dunn said Henderson (or “Henny”) was delivering.

“She’s a multi-dimensional player,” Dunn said. “Love the fact that she can get to the rim. I love the fact that she can pull up and hit the three. I also love the fact that she’s a nice, tough little quick defender.”

Henderson proved it on the court as a starter over the Fever’s first three games, where she led the team in assists (five) in their season opener, an 84-70 loss to the Washington Mystics. She followed up as the top scorer in their second outing, dropping 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting in an 87-77 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. Henderson experienced her first win with the Fever this past Tuesday, scoring eight points with five assists in an 82-76 triumph over the Minnesota Lynx and helping snap a six-game series losing streak for Indiana.

Regarding how her on-court performance matches with draft-night expectations, Henderson shares her perspective, which sounds a bit like … well, destiny: “We kind of expected for me to go first round, but it happened the way it did for a reason.”

That reason appears to be Henderson’s opportunity to earn significant minutes for the Fever at point guard, where she averaged five assists per game during her junior year at South Carolina and 3.9 as a senior. But in addition to joining the WNBA rookie-of-the-year conversation, Henderson can help turnaround an Indiana team that hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2015.

The Fever set a league record with 12-straight playoffs appearances from 2005-16, including three trips to the WNBA finals, but they haven’t reached the postseason since 2016. What’s more, from 2017-21, Indiana has the distinction of having the worst winning percentage (40-116, .256) of any team in the WNBA, NBA, NFL or NHL.

Fever coach Marianne Stanley, who took over in 2020 and won a combined 12 games over the last two seasons, believes this fresh-faced roster can rise to the occasion.

“I’ve never had this many new faces all at one time,” said Stanley, who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame later this year. “But there’s a lot of great energy and a lot of positivity. People want to get the job done and want to do well. That’s terrific. At this point, we need as much of that type of attitude as we can get.”

Regarding Henderson, Stanley said she knew the Gamecocks’ alum would be a welcome addition.

“We had a group we were hoping to be able to choose from, and Destanni was right there,” Stanley said on draft night. “To know we have a guard that helped South Carolina win the national championship, that’s huge.”

But apart from national titles or scoring honors, Henderson already is thinking about her future after basketball. While still in college, she began her own clothing line called Clothing by HP – “Hennything is Possible,” playing off her nickname. It includes t-shirts, shorts, track suits and hoodies, and Henderson often models her line on Instagram, where she has 193,000 followers.

“I had to invest in myself,” she told the Indy Star last month after turning heads at the draft in a powder blue suit and matching New York Yankees hat that she designed. “I had to take my own earnings and invest into something, hoping that it turns out great, hoping that I get my money back plus some. I had to take the risk because it was something I truly wanted to do. I will never regret it because it’s been really helpful to me.”

The Fever are back in action Friday on the road at the New York Liberty.

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report. 

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Fifty years later, Title IX slogan ‘Give women a sporting chance’ still propels advocates

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Getty Images
0 Comments

It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Getty Images
0 Comments

The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.