Mr. Phil Henderson

It was summer 1986 when Robert Brickey first met Phil Henderson, and the highly touted incoming freshmen were at a six-week precollege program at Duke.

Then they played pickup against David Henderson and Johnny Dawkins.

"That was an eye-opener," Brickey said.

Over the next four years, Brickey and Henderson went to three Final Fours and laid the foundation for Duke to become the powerhouse program it is today.

Brickey, along with the rest of the Duke basketball family, was shocked to learn that Henderson died Sunday in the Philippines of cardiac arrest. He was 44.

Henderson is survived by five children: Genesis, 21; Harrison, 15; Adonia, 6; Athalia, 5; and Azriel, 4.

"Please tell me you've got the name wrong, or you went to the wrong apartment, tell me you made a mistake," Brickey said of his reaction to the news. "It's tough. It's tough for everybody.

"He was just a fun-loving guy. Loved life. Loved basketball."

Henderson was still involved in the game. He had been in the Philippines since last year, said his ex-wife, Shervonne Henderson, and was the director of the Filipino Basketball Academy.

Henderson, who played at Duke from 1986-1990, was a member of the 1988, 1989 and 1990 Final Four teams. He finished his Duke career with 1,397 points, 330 rebounds, 217 assists and 128 3-point field goals in 115 games.

"There's no question he was an integral part of our success during that time period," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He was a really talented player and could really score the ball deceptively. You didn't think of him being the athlete that he was because he kind of had a frail body and was thin. But he could shoot, really a streak shooter where he could put up points real quick."

Krzyzewski, who spoke to Henderson's mother Monday morning, described him as a gentle man. Brickey, who lived with Henderson at Duke that first summer and then their freshman and junior years, remembered Henderson's ability to reach out and connect with people around him.

"I got to know a lot of people through Phil," Brickey said.

Henderson was a senior captain in 1990 and led the Blue Devils, who lost in the NCAA title game to UNLV, with an average of 18.5 points per game. To ensure Duke reached that title game, the University Park, Ill., native scored 17 of his 28 points in the second half of the 97-83 victory against Arkansas in the national semifinal game. Henderson averaged 22.3 points per game in tournament play en route to collecting ACC All-Tournament, NCAA All-East Regional and NCAA All-Final Four team honors. He also earned second-team All-ACC honors.

A 1986 McDonald's All-American, Henderson was drafted in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks. He played professionally in the CBA and international leagues. He met Shervonne, his ex-wife, in 2004 while running coaching clinics at the University of West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, where she worked. They married in 2005, had three children, separated after 4 1/2 years and divorced in 2012, she said. Shervonne is also working to return their three children from the Philippines to the United States.

A lasting image of Henderson will be his dunk over Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning in the 1989 NCAA region finals. Krzyzewski referenced that play earlier this season when Duke played Temple in the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., the location of Henderson's highlight.

"I've seen a lot of great things in the building," Krzyzewski said Dec. 8.

Brickey, who runs basketball clinics and a recruiting service in Toronto, said their overall body of work from their time at Duke stands out most to him. During their tenures, Duke went 109-33 (.768) and went to those three Final Fours.

"We ran into a buzz saw with UNLV that year," Brickey said. "Sometimes just the fact that you have experience being there makes a difference. So, Christian Laettner and those guys had a chance to be there in '90, so they didn't go in there with wide eyes like it was their first time when they showed up at the Final Four in '91 and '92."

(Story by Laura Keely)

Published in Charlotte Observer on Feb. 19, 2013