The Players’ Tribune, Gerald Henderson (https://dukeblueplanet.exposure.co/the-bus-before-the-bus)
The handshake. It‘s something we all have seen guys do for our whole lives as basketball players and fans. We dream about it. And on June 25, 2009, the dream came true for me.
“With the 12th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Bobcats select… GERALD HENDERSON FROM DUKE UNIVERSITY.”
I hugged my family. I remember hugging my dad and what he said to me. He said, “You made it man, good job.” That was special for me. My dad pushed me my whole life. Taught me how to work, taught me the game. He had a pro career and I always looked up to him.
Before heading to the stage, I also pointed to Nate James and Chris Carrawell. I had (and still have) a great relationship with those guys and all the Duke coaches.
With the bright lights on, I climbed the stage and headed up to meet David Stern. I was feeling like the flyest guy at the draft with my suit looking sharp. It was grey with light pinstripes. I had a dark blue tie with blue circles. Everything flowed nicely with brown shoes. I still have that suit today. After getting drafted, I went right to media. I finally got a chance later that night to celebrate and hang out with my family before flying to Charlotte for more media. I never slept. The dream was real.
SEVEN YEARS LATER
When I look back at Draft Night, the first word that comes to mind every time is gratitude. It‘s an honor to play in this league and I know I couldn‘t have done it without the support of my family and coaches.
One of the first things I did after I was drafted was send Coach K a small gift. It was a little globe paperweight, with a note thanking him for preparing me for the world. I can‘t return all the gifts he‘s given me through his coaching and commitment to help me develop ever since he started recruiting me. The paperweight was to show my appreciation because he had given me so much and been such an amazing influence. He changed my entire way of thinking and whole outlook. I went from thinking and acting young, to thinking strong and acting old during my time at Duke. And more importantly, I learned how to think confidently.
One of the main reasons I ended up in the 2009 NBA Draft and ready to make an impact as a pro player was a meeting I had with Coach during my junior year. We had lost at Michigan in December. I played okay. Not great. Coach sat me down privately in his office the next day and asked how things were going. I was a captain and he asked me how the guys were playing. I mentioned everybody but myself. He said, “Well G, you have explained our team but you haven‘t said how you are playing. And I don‘t think you are playing that hard. You aren‘t playing to the best of your ability.”
He then asked me what my goals were. I wanted to be ACC Player of the Year. First Team All-ACC. All-American. NBA Player. He said, “Well G, I don‘t think you are close on any of those. If I were a coach, GM or owner, I wouldn‘t draft you. What do you do that makes you an All-American? You aren‘t that. There‘s no reason to think that right now you could be an NBA 2-guard.” At the time, I understood what he was saying, but it pissed me off. I thought I was an NBA player. But I wasn‘t doing nearly enough, and he was right. But like I said — I was pissed. In my mind, I was like, “Alright. I‘m gonna show him. I‘m gonna show him an NBA player. He‘ll see.”
I know he knew what he was doing. He knew anger was a good emotion for me. From then on, I started taking things way more seriously. I took everything very personally, including what he said to me that day. Even though I know he was right. And from that moment, I took off. I played well and became the Duke player I always wanted to be. Getting drafted to the league isn‘t the only dream. Being one of the best players at Duke is what you dream about too.
Back then, it was guys like J-Will, JJ, Shelden, and Grant for me when I was younger. Those are the guys you wanted to be. Being in that kind of spot was what I always wanted. It took a lot of work and a meeting like that, but it was a beautiful time in my life. To get drafted, you can‘t skip steps.
And as a player in general, you have to find out what makes you go. Coach K will help you. He‘s about relationships. Even the guys who are only here for one year — he still figures them out, connects with them early in the recruiting process, and gets them ready. It helps the team and it sets the stage for those guys.
Coach K knows everybody is different. Anger may not be Jayson‘s Tatum thing. Whatever it is, Coach will find what gets you going. From there, it’s up to the player to develop a routine and be disciplined. That‘s how you stay consistent. Once you find your routine and consistency, you will feel ready and be capable of big things. You will be on a mission.
FIND YOUR MISSION
I got on a mission in 2009 after that meeting. Duke needed me to be our best player. Coach K knew that. I realized it. I wanted to be the best I could and show him. I am a draft pick. I wanted to show him. I didn‘t know I would end up in the draft a few months later as a result.
When you come here, you better get on a mission. Coach K is on a mission. The coaches are on a mission. You will have other teammates on a mission. We are always bringing in the top recruits. It‘s a brotherhood young players dream about being a part of, but we don‘t do guarantees here.
There could be a cat that‘s got All-America talent who maybe didn‘t play as much because there‘s another cat with the same talent who outworked him. Coming in as an All-American, there‘s someone waiting on you. You better be ready and on a mission. Have to. Every year, guys are walking into high-level competition. You gotta be prepared for that.
One of the best ways to ensure you are primed and ready is to have great relationships with the coaches. Take advantage of their knowledge and resources. Share your hopes, dreams, thoughts and concerns. Trust them and the process. The coaches know guys have NBA ambitions and they want your dreams to come true. When I decided to go pro — or even before — I involved them in the process because I knew they could give me info. I wanted them to be a part of it and I knew they could help me through it. Chris Carrawell worked me out starting two weeks after the season until two days before the draft. He was killing me, but he got me ready. I will never forget that time. C-Well for the rest of life will be like a brother to me because he pushed me.
Here at Duke, it‘s not only about basketball. They are trying to raise men. You are at a crucial point in your development. It‘s about teaching principles for life. Things you will take with you. Your college experience — whether it‘s one, two, three or four years — is short. You can‘t rush that process and it‘s important to soak up all that Duke has to offer. That type of mindset will get you ready for the next step.
The NBA is about basketball. There‘s nobody in place to talk you through things all the time. You are brought in to perform and they put a value on you. It‘s about your basketball growth solely. It‘s a business. Just like any job. When you get to the real world, there‘s less mentoring and growth focus. You get a job and they ask what you can do for the company.
Looking back, I think I was ready for that because of Coach and everything he taught us about accountability. Not just how you play. How you work, the way you get your rest. With everything you do. Be accountable to your commitment. Your biggest contribution to the team is being responsible for your own performance.
One thing that‘s hard to be prepare for is making that next step after you have been drafted. It feels like you have arrived, but really you are just getting started. Some advice I‘d give Brandon Ingram this week is to enjoy the moment but then focus on what‘s next. Immediately. Focus on killing the Summer League and showing why you were a top pick. Because there‘s gonna be cats who were drafted that say, “Hey I want to beat this cat.” There‘s gonna be cats who weren‘t drafted who want to show why they should have been been. There‘s gonna be cats trying to make a training camp roster who say, “Hey, if I go at Brandon Ingram, I could make a team and get a check.” After the draft, get in the gym right away because it comes quick and the season starts soon.
And the other thing I always remember and have felt since draft day: we‘re never alone at Duke. We do this together. When a Duke guy does something big, we all feel a part of it. We just watched with pride as Kyrie hit the game-winner in Game 7 of The Finals. All year long, we will play teams and hear Duke guys‘ names called in starting lineups. I heard Mason Plumlee all year in Portland. This is a brotherhood. All of us will be smiling when Brandon‘s name is called and we will have his back as he gets going in the league.
Before then, he‘ll drive over to the Draft in a bus with the other top projected picks. I remember being in there with guys like Stephen Curry, James Harden, and Blake Grffin my year. You are rolling over with a police brigade. It‘s surreal.
And you can‘t get on that Draft bus without having great people on your own bus. All of the guys know where I am going with this. Coach has told us the bus story a couple dozen times… and probably told it to every camper in the history of his camp. But it‘s perfect to summarize Draft Night and how it happened for me.
Because you aren‘t getting on that bus to Draft Night with the lottery pick cats without first having amazing people on your own bus. When I look back on Draft Night and my career before and since, I know I got there because of the people on my bus and the love, support and guidance they‘ve shared my whole life.