LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- If Hollywood drew up the NCAA championships, every title team would have a Tim Henderson. In fact, every championship team might have the actual Tim Henderson, just pass him around for use at the most effective time in the script.
Henderson does not fit the character profile of Final Four hero. He is not 6-5. He's not a McDonald's All-American. I'm not even sure whether he eats at McDonald's.
I do know this: He won't need to pay for many meals at any Louisville restaurant after what he did in the national semifinals against Wichita State, burying back-to-back threes to steady and spark his team when it appeared they might be in trouble.
Henderson is straight out of central casting in the role of unlikely hero. Clean-cut, quiet, unassuming and polite. That's probably why, after Louisville came from behind to beat Wichita State to advance to the NCAA championship game, Henderson's locker, from the crush of media, looked like Justin Bieber or somebody had stopped by for a visit.
You couldn't get near him. The media couldn't get enough of this story, the letters Henderson wrote to Louisville coach RIck Pitino as a high school player at Christian Academy in Louisville. The former video coordinator who knew Henderson who convinced Pitino and assistant coach Ralph Willard to take a look at him. He played pick-up games with Louisville's players. He figured he'd wind up going to play for former Cardinal Wiley Brown at IU Southeast or try to land a spot with former Louisville assistant Scott Davenport at Bellarmine. But Pitino finally relented, assigning him to Elisha Justice as a roommate.
He asked his parents, both U of L alums, "Does this mean I'm on the team?"
This stuff just doesn't happen, right? Somebody is drawing this all up. Henderson had scored three points the entire Big East season. Then he goes bombs away with the sand slipping out of the Cardinals' season? A day earlier, when reporters asked Kevin Ware how his team would fare without him, Ware said Henderson would be fine, that he expected him to come in and knocked down a couple of threes.
Yeah, right. Like we're supposed to buy that.
Next thing you're going to tell me is that Henderson sat on the bench and talked about making something happen.
Well, now that you mention it, on the bench, Stephan Van Treese said he was talking to Henderson during the game. "He told me, 'We might not make it to a Final Four again. Somebody needs to step up and do something,'" Van Treese said. "Turned out, he was the guy."
Of course he was.
Henderson's teammates say they weren't surprised. Certainly team captain Luke Hancock wasn't surprised. He had fed Henderson with a seemingly meaningless garbage-time pass in the final seconds against Duke, and Henderson had knocked down a late three. Turns out, it wasn't exactly meaningless. It planted a seed for Henderson.
The junior earlier this season literally tripped and fell on his way to the scorer's table when sent into a game. That doesn't exactly foster a lot of confidence from your coach. Rick Pitino put the best face on everything he could when asked to call upon Henderson, but he knew it was a tough spot.
When Henderson got the ball on the wing with the Cards down 12, Pitino yelled, "Kill it, Tim!" Then Pitino said he thought, "What am I saying?"
Before he could regret his words, Henderson drilled the three. The second time Henderson got the ball from about the same spot, Pitino said, "I didn't have to say anything. He was confident and had no hesitation."
Still Pitino wouldn't say he was expecting it.
"The players said they weren't surprised about him making those back-to-back threes," Pitino said. "They're being very kind. I was shocked. Not shocked that he made them, just that he had the gumption to take them, then take it again. That's pretty darn big on this stage. That shows incredible fortitude for a young man that hasn't played any minutes, to go in and do that. So I'm real proud of him."
Pitino isn't alone. All of Louisville is. Amid the media throng around his locker, Henderson said, "You always hope you can contribute when the team needs you. It's an amazing thing to be able to do."
Two shots didn't just change the course of U of L's championship fortunes, but probably changed Henderson's life.
Pitino told him to "kill it." Kill? No. Henderson actually kept the Cards alive.