BOSTON (AP)—The old Boston Garden has been torn down, and the Celtics’ famous parquet will be tucked away in storage along with the NBA championship banners Gerald Henderson’s father helped win.
But when the Duke guard takes the floor against Villanova in the NCAA East Regional semifinals on Thursday night, he’ll be looking to leave the court the same way his dad did so often during his NBA career.
“It’s pretty nice to be playing in Boston, where my dad had his best years as a pro,” the younger Henderson said Wednesday. “I’m sure he’ll have fun coming back here and, hopefully, watching me having some of the same success that he had.”
Henderson’s father—“Big Gerald,” as Villanova coach Jay Wright called him—played 13 seasons in the NBA, the first five years in Boston. With the Celtics he won the 1981 and ’84 NBA championships, helping secure the latter— and his place in Boston lore—with a steal in the final seconds of a Game 2 victory.
Henderson was traded to the Seattle SuperSonics after the season and he won another title with the Detroit Pistons in 1990 before retiring from the NBA the next year. (The banners commemorating his Celtics championships were removed for the weekend, per NCAA rule.)
“Little Gerald” was born in 1987, and Wright first met him when he was 9 or 10 and his father brought him to one of the big Philadelphia tournaments.
“He introduced him to me, ‘This is my son. He’s going to play for you someday,”’ Wright, who was coaching at Hofstra at the time, recalled. “Little did I know I would be back at Villanova and recruiting him.”
Henderson went to the same suburban Philadelphia school as Wright’s children, and his sister stayed home to attend Villanova. But when recruiting time came around, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski lured the NBA prodigy to Durham, N.C.
“Villanova is a great place. I grew up around there,” he said. “I have a lot of friends that go there, even on the team now. Coach Wright is great in recruiting and has always been good to my family. And Duke just ended up being the right place.
“Coach Krzyzewski and his vision for me as a player was something that was really intriguing to me. And Duke overall as a program and as a school really just locked it for me.”
As the offspring of a three-time NBA champion, Henderson knows a little bit about mystique—and there’s no question Duke has it. With three NCAA titles, 14 Final Four appearances and the fourth-winningest coach in college basketball history, the Blue Devils are one of the programs with mystique that translates nationally.
“I think there is a value to that,” said Wright, whose team beat 11-time NCAA champion UCLA to reach the regional semifinals. “I think there are times when we benefit from that, (but) when you play UCLA or Duke, we don’t benefit; I think they do. And I think that’s just having that name on the front of your chest. You expect good things to happen. You expect to win close games. You expect the team to respect you.
“I was a little bit concerned about that going to the UCLA game and I think our guys handled it well. So I’m a little bit less concerned about Duke. One of the things about Duke is that our players know their players pretty well. So I hope that familiarity can lessen that Duke mystique a little bit for them.”
And, despite Duke’s stature, it’s Villanova that has the actual NCAA tournament experience.
The Wildcats, the No. 3 seed in the East, are back in the regional semifinals for the fourth time in five years, though they haven’t reached the Final Four since their storied upset over Georgetown in 1985. Though the second-seeded Blue Devils made the round of 16 for the ninth straight time in 2006, they lost early in each of the last two years; only Greg Paulus played meaningful minutes in that run.
“I don’t think of our program with the word mystique. But I do think we’re a brand that has produced good things,” Krzyzewski said. “No one has produced a winning championship every year. But really for the most part we’ll play hard. We try to do it the right way. We show up. I like that. That’s how I was brought up in the inner city of Chicago, and that’s the program that I’ve tried to establish at Duke.
“I don’t think that helps us at all tomorrow night. But it doesn’t hurt us, either. When we play somebody, nobody is mystified. You’ve got to beat them. Villanova is a team that they don’t lose, you have to beat them. And I would hope that we’re the same type of team.”