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.
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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. 

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