SEATTLE — There was a time in Daesha Henderson’s life when she hated playing with girls.
A self-described tomboy whose closest relatives were an older brother and two male cousins, Henderson preferred the company of boys to that of kids from her own gender. And besides, when it came to playing basketball, Henderson couldn’t get the same kind of competition from girls that she had while playing in boys’ leagues.
“They weren’t very good, to be honest,” Henderson said of why she didn’t want to play in a girls basketball league.
So when her mother, Maggie, signed up Daesha to play in the Snohomish Junior Athletic Association girls’ basketball league, the fourth-grader wanted nothing to do with it.
“I hated it,” Henderson said this week. “I wanted to quit. I cried every weekend. But my mom said: ‘You’re committed to the team.’ And she wouldn’t let me quit.”
For that, the entire Seattle Pacific University coaching staff owes Daesha’s mother a debt of gratitude. Because Daesha Henderson eventually learned to play with girls, and the SPU senior got so good at it that she was recently honored as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference player of the year.
“It’s always an honor,” Henderson said of the award, which has gone to five SPU players since the turn of the century. “It’s a really good conference, with really good players, so it means a lot.”
Beginning tonight, Henderson and the Falcons (24-3) will try to earn a couple other honors. As host of the West Regional, SPU is a favorite to advance to its first Elite Eight in five years, and with that a trip to St. Joseph, Mo., for the NCAA Division II championships.
That’s where Henderson’s biggest goal awaits.
“I think we might” have a chance to win it all, Henderson said this week, as SPU prepared to open the tournament against Hawaii Pacific tonight. “I wouldn’t have said that a few weeks ago, but we’ve really started to play well as a team.”
While tonight’s game is the first objective, the Falcons do have another itch that they’ve been waiting to scratch for two years. The second round is likely to feature a game against Alaska Anchorage, which has knocked SPU out of each of the past two West Region tournaments in the round of 16 — both at SPU’s gym.
Far be it for Henderson to make a vow of redemption, but it’s safe to say that the Falcons would like a rematch.
“Right now we have to take it one game at a time,” said Henderson, one of three Snohomish High School products currently playing at SPU. “But obviously, they’re a huge rival.”
As far as individual goals go, Henderson thought she had a chance to be GNAC player of the year last season but had to watch Alaska-Anchorage’s Rebecca Kielpinski win it for the third year in a row. Henderson said this week that multiple conference coaches told her later that the award went to the wrong person.
“I was definitely in the running for it,” Henderson said of last year’s voting. “Coming into this year, I definitely had hopes of getting it.”
As a senior, Henderson ranked in the conference’s top 10 in scoring (13.3 points per game, ninth), assists (2.7, seventh) and steals (2.5, first). During her four-year career at SPU, Henderson ranks sixth in GNAC history in career steals and 25th in career assists.
And now she’s got that player-of-the-year award.
Playing with the girls hasn’t turned out as bad as Henderson expected.