Destanni Henderson And USA U17 Women Depart For Europe
After missing the cut for the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team, the message was clear for 5-foot-8 guard Destanni Henderson (Fort Myers H.S./Fort Myers, Fla.).
“I just had to make sure that if I wanted to be back again, I had to I work harder than I did before.
“It was my first time in this type of atmosphere, and the altitude and how it worked. I learned a lot. Especially for my position. I wasn’t really doing what I needed to do. I was kind of holding back. Everyone tried to do so much. I just had to find my role and find my spot.”
In 2016, Henderson returned to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for trials for the 2016 USA Women’s U17 World Championship Team, along with 138 other hopefuls.
“To be a leader, take good shots, make the right decisions, get the ball where it needed to be and run up and down the floor,” Henderson said of her focus during the 2016 trials. “I was more in my zone. I felt more comfortable.”
Some of that comfort was due to the experience she gained at the 2015 trials, and some of it was due to the hard work Henderson put in after her 2015-16 sophomore high school season ended.
“After high school ball, I started training off the court, like getting in the weight room and getting stronger. It really did help at trials.”
The end result, when Henderson was named to the 12-member roster for the USA U17 World Championship Team on June 2, was a powerful affirmation for Henderson.
“Like, ‘This really just happened!?’ My hard work actually paid off, and I did what I said I was going to do,” Henderson said of her reaction when she heard her named called as a team member. “I was very shocked. I was crying and stuff, but it was happy tears. It was just amazing that I actually did what I said I was going to do, and that I had believed in myself.”
When she returned home for a five-day break before the team resumed training camp on June 8, Henderson was overwhelmed with support.
“Everybody was coming up to me yelling and screaming and all excited, telling me congratulations. I got like a million congratulations on Instagram and in person.”
It was the second time this year that Henderson had felt that appreciation from her community.
Averaging 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.0 steals per game, she helped Fort Myers High School to a 27-5 record and a 6A state title.
“It was great,” recalled Henderson. “To win it with my friends and my teammates, it was pretty fun. Especially for my school, because that was the first time the girls basketball team had won state.
“I got better. I started playing my spot that I should be playing. My freshman year, I was playing a two or three if I had to. This year I got better at the one, and we won state.”
From winning a state to working towards a gold medal, Henderson and her USA teammates now have concluded a training camp that consisted of two-a-day practices, with the exception of one day, where she was battling against some of the best players in her age group from throughout the United States.
“Training camp was good, but tiring,” Henderson admitted. “We still have to keep pushing to keep going forward if we want to get that gold.
“You may think it is like, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go again,’ but it’s actually very good for you to compete against the best. It only makes you better.”
The week long camp, which wrapped up on June 14 before the team departed for Europe on June 15, already helped Henderson improve as a player.
“I learned a few things. I learned that if I beat a defender, to switch hands, so they won’t be able to get me from the back.
“I’m just trying to get better all around.”
With a roster that includes just two players with international experience, Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s H.S./Stockton, Calif.) and Sedona Prince (Liberty Hill H.S./Liberty Hill, Texas), the USA will get its first taste of FIBA basketball in warm-up games against France in Anglet, France on June 18 and against Australia in Zaragoza Spain, where the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship will be played, on June 20.
“It’s like, ‘Wow.’ This is my first time going out of the country, so I’m going to make sure I take a lot of pictures,” she said. “Because you never know in the long run if you are going to be there again. Just really enjoy it, and get to enjoy it with these girls and really have a good time.”
Henderson may not know exactly what to expect of international travel and competition, but she does know what is expected of her.
“My role is to make sure move the ball up the floor, get it where it needs to be, make sure I talk, make sure things are where they are supposed to be at, play good solid, defense and make the right decisions and shot selections,” she explained.
She also said she is excited to take the court for the first time in her USA Basketball jersey.
“I’m playing for my country,” Henderson said when asked what this opportunity means to her. “I’m not just playing for me. I’m playing for a lot of people. I’m really just trying to be the best that I can and really represent USA.”