After Long College Season, Destanni Henderson Refocuses on AmeriCup Team
Destanni Henderson already plays with some of the best players in the country with the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team. She also plays for one of the game’s best coaches in Dawn Staley.
But when she steps onto the court for USA Basketball, there is just a different feeling for Henderson.
“I feel like it’s a great atmosphere, just individually to learn and to grow as a player,” Henderson said. “You know you’re going make mistakes, and I feel like because everyone’s so good — people are playing hard every possession — so it really just challenges you to get better at your craft and do some things that you’re not really familiar with, things that they exploit and just to elevate your game.”
The 5-foot-7 point guard had her skills tested during the recent 2021 USA Women’s AmeriCup Team trials on the South Carolina campus, and she is one of 13 finalists who returned to Columbia for a training camp that began June 1. The roster will be cut to 12 before the team heads to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the FIBA AmeriCup, which runs June 11-19.
One of the biggest areas where Henderson said she wants to improve is her stamina to overcome late-game fatigue. Her minutes at South Carolina jumped from 23.5 as a sophomore to 34 as a junior this past season, including starting all 31 games.
“I played, in our season, a majority of the minutes, basically most every game, I played almost the whole game,” said Henderson, who averaged 12.2 points, 5.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game as South Carolina went 26-5 and made the Final Four. “When you get tired, you make certain mistakes that you’re not really used to making when you’re not tired. So, I feel like that is something I should be more dialed into when I know I’m tired, to really focus and take care of the basketball and not make the little mistakes that I wouldn’t have made if I wasn’t as tired.”
Henderson’s game also is elevated by who she plays for. Not only has Staley built South Carolina into one of the pre-eminent programs in the nation, but she also has been a prominent voice when it comes to social and racial issues. Staley is coaching Henderson with the USA AmeriCup team, as well as coaching the USA National Team that will be going for an unprecedented seventh straight gold medal at the Olympic Games this summer.
“I’m a very humble player, but playing for her is amazing,” Henderson said of Staley. “I feel like she is one of the best coaches I have ever seen or been around or just been coached by. She’s very cool, she’s laid-back, she’s funny, she’s outgoing, she’s all of it in only one person. She has all her accolades, things that she has done and achieved, and has voiced her opinions in so many important situations. I feel like she’s a very powerful coach, and a lot of people look up to her. So, I feel like she’s one of the best coaches a player can have.”
Witnessing Staley coach in two distinctly different settings — the season-long grind in college and the short yet intense spurt of a USA Basketball camp — Henderson said the coach stays true to her style in both situations.
“There’s no difference,” Henderson said with a chuckle. “There’s not really a difference, especially in the style of coaching, she is who she is at all times. I think she always wants a player to get better, and she wants the best for everybody, so I feel like her coaching style is still the same. Now the (South Carolina) season is over, of course, so it’s not like we’re competing for (what we do in) the season, now we’re competing for the country. I feel like that’s the only difference. They just instilled in our heads that it is an important job and winning the gold is very important.”
Coming home with an AmeriCup gold medal would be a little more special for Henderson. Her last USA Basketball experience came in high school when she was selected for the 2016 USA U17 World Cup Team that lost in the semifinals but still won the bronze medal.
“It was disappointing, because you know the goal is to get the gold,” Henderson said. “I feel like it was a great experience overall. I was able to do something most kids aren’t able to do, so I really was blessed and grateful for that opportunity. And now, a few years later, I’m here able to be in a position where I can possibly make it a different outcome. What I did before (in 2016), I’m just trying to stay positive about that. It is really exciting that I have a chance to make it happen again and hopefully this time get gold.”