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Don Henderson, of Rich East, takes a shot against Bloom. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

Don Henderson was taller than most of his peers growing up in University Park.

When he was introduced to basketball by his father at age 10, Don had a real good feeling he would excel at the sport.

In basketball, especially at a young age, size does matter.

“I was like 5-foot-9 when I was 10 or 11 years old,” Henderson said. “I was bigger than everybody. I had a great advantage.”

Henderson still boasts a size advantage over many of high school peers — he’s now a 6-foot-5 senior at Rich East.

Last season he averaged a double-double: 12 points and 10 rebounds per game.

It’s not by accident Henderson’s rebounding numbers nearly matched his scoring output. He takes as much pride in his ability to rebound as he does putting the ball in the basket.

“I’d like to finish in the top 5 in the area in scoring,” Henderson said. “But I want to lead the area in rebounding. Rebounding is my main goal. I want to get as many rebounds as I can.”

Henderson has altered his game some this season for Rich East, sitting at 6-3 after a strong showing at the McDipper. Instead of camping out in the blocks, he’s expanded his ability to score from the perimeter. He knows he needs to show an ability to knock down the 15-to-18-foot jumper if ambitions of playing Division I ball are to be realized.

A 6-5 frame generally slots most high school players at center or power forward. In college, it’s likely at shooting guard.

Which is why Henderson has worked hard at improving his outside shot, while not allowing his rebounding to suffer.

“I’ve been crashing the weak side a lot and getting rebounds,” he said. “I worked on my jump shot over the summer a lot and I still work on it before and after practice. My mid-range jumper has improved greatly. I’m confident taking that shot (in a game).”

Which doesn’t bode well for opponents. Henderson is one of the area’s most skilled inside forces, possessing the means to throw down a dunk and clear the lane with the best of them.

Adding a perimeter option makes him more dangerous.

“Don is one of the toughest and smartest players I’ve ever coached,” Rich East coach George Leonard said. “He’s not afraid of anyone or anything. He’s the type of player that makes everyone around him better.”

He’s also the type of person most of his peers and teachers enjoy being around.

“Every teacher loves him,” Leonard said.

The faculty’s affinity for Henderson goes beyond his academic — a 3.0 GPA — and athletic achievements – three-year varsity player. He’s an even better person. One of the most important values Henderson’s parents — Don Henderson Sr. and Sonya Harris — instilled in their son was to “treat people how you want to be treated.”

“Just be a great person,” Henderson said.

His folks also prioritized academic success over athletics.

“They always stressed homework before anything else,” said Henderson, who plans on majoring in mechanical engineering. “It’s always been a top priority.”

Henderson doesn’t know where he’ll play college ball. His preference is Division I, though ultimately, he just wants an opportunity to prove himself.

“That’s what I want most — an opportunity,” said Henderson, a Forest Trail Middle School graduate. “Right now I’m just focused on the season.”

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