Former Gamecock Destanni Henderson talks WNBA, Indiana Fever

South Carolina's Destanni Henderson (3) pressures Creighton's Tatum Rembao (2) during the first half of action in the Elite Eight competition between USC and Creighton University at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday March 27, 2022.

South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson (3) pressures Creighton’s Tatum Rembao (2) during the first half of action in the Elite Eight competition between USC and Creighton University at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday March 27, 2022.

tglantz@thestate.com

The weight of Destanni Henderson’s WNBA dream coming to life hit her when she walked into her new apartment in Indiana.

Henderson, the former point guard on South Carolina’s 2021-22 national champion women’s basketball team, was drafted by the Indiana Fever in the second round of the 2022 WNBA draft earlier this month, and she moved into her first apartment one day before giving an interview during the Fever’s media day Wednesday.

“It’s just crazy because it’s like, basketball is literally my job now,” she said. “It’s always been my job, but it’s like, I’m getting paid to do this. (I don’t want) to take this opportunity for granted because it can be taken away from you at any point, so it’s honestly just been a blessing.”

With the 20th overall pick in the second round, Henderson was the last player selected of the 12 invited to attend the 2022 WNBA draft in New York City. Henderson said Wednesday she had “heard things” ahead of the draft indicating she would be selected in the first round, and ESPN had listed Henderson in its first-round mock draft less than a week before the event.

But Henderson hasn’t let the disappointment of a draft slide get her down as she battles for a roster spot in Indiana.

“At the end of the day, I’m just going to recognize I was meant to go second round,” she said. “I was meant to end up in this position, and it’s not something I’m going to dwell on. The (draft) experience was great. I’m happy to be here, and everything happens for a reason.”

An article posted on the WNBA’s website last month said 25.2% (39) of the 155 players who saw game action last season were second-round picks in the draft. Compare that to the 64.5% (100) active players who were first-round picks, and it helps put into perspective how coveted those first 12 selections in the draft can be.

The Fever will have to trim its roster down to 12 players before the WNBA season’s May 6 start date. Indiana’s roster stood at 17 on Wednesday.

Though Henderson was drafted in the second round’s later half, she ended up in a comparatively good situation with the Fever. Indiana, in a rebuild after posting the league’s worst record last season, is open to new talent — having picked four players in the first round of this year’s draft alone.

Henderson said Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley, who also traveled to New York for the draft, echoed that sentiment, assuring Henderson she’s in a good position.

“What was in the back of my head is that this team is rebuilding,” Henderson said. “They’re looking for people to come into the organization and make a change, make a difference and win basketball games. It’s just really been a motivation point for me.”

Henderson is joined by two fellow Gamecocks in Indiana — Alaina Coates and Tiffany Mitchell, a six-year Fever veteran who has served as a mentor to Henderson.

Henderson said Mitchell lends an “open ear” to the first-year pro as she navigates her WNBA journey.

“It gives me motivation to be here,” Henderson said. “I can always count on her or ask her questions. Any concerns that I have, I know I can go to her. I know she’ll be a very good help. … She listens, she understands the game and knows what comes with this. I know I’ll be able to go to her if I need anything.”

Henderson’s life has been a whirlwind throughout April. She was the leading scorer in the Gamecocks’ second national championship April 3 in Minneapolis, traveled to New York City for WNBA draft festivities one week later and had seven hours between returning from New York and moving her life from South Carolina to Indiana for a shot with the Fever.

Henderson said she packed five duffel bags and probably spent hundreds of dollars to move them to Indiana, but the transition had been made easy by the Fever overall.

Through the chaos of winning a national championship, experiencing the WNBA draft and moving across country all in a single month, Henderson sat back at the Fever’s media day with a wide grin. She said the transition had been made smooth with the Fever, and she felt great.

“It’s been like a roller coaster, trying to celebrate and enjoy the moment,” she said. “It’s just hard — trying to take in — but when I do have my moments, my downtime, I sit back and reflect on them. (I’m) just glad to be in this position, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Indiana plays its first preseason game against the Chicago Sky on Saturday.

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Augusta Stone covers South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball, football and other college sports for The State. A winner of the Green Eyeshade Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Stone’s work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Charlotte Observer. Stone graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia.

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