With all the confusion and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lendl Henderson Jr. and his family were also concerned about another type of exposure — the type that attracts interest from Division I basketball coaches.
With the cancelation of last year’s high school basketball playoffs — which cost Henderson a chance to play for a Division IV state boys championship — and the ensuing shut down of the AAU circuit, the Bakersfield Christian senior opted to make a difficult choice in an effort to garner more interest from college coaches.
As a result, the Eagles talented 6-foot-5, 182-pound forward has decided to transfer to Southern California Academy, a college prep high school located in Santa Clarita with multiple facilities throughout southern California.
“It’s just about going to the next level, and that’s where I’m trying to go,” Henderson Jr. said. “So when I went down and visited I felt like I’d have a better chance to go to the next level down there. So that got my attention. I just want to have a chance to play in college.
“I feel like the competition level is what I’ve been missing. So I'm going out there and having tougher competition and more exposure will help me out.”
Before making the decision, Henderson Jr. says he sat down with his father, former East High standout Lendl Henderson Sr., and grandfather, Milt Henderson, a longtime Blades coach who was an assistant at BCHS last season.
“We just wanted him to play against better competition and to get reps with players that are already in college,” said Lendl Henderson Sr., of the school's private workouts that often feature pro and Division I college players. “That will help him get better and to get a better feel for the game.”
Henderson is already pretty good.
He was the leading scorer on a team that captured the South Yosemite League, Central Section Division 3 and Southern California Regional Division IV championships last year as a junior.
The SYL player of the year averaged 17 points and seven rebounds a game to lead the Eagles to the Central Section Division 3 title and Southern California Regional championship. The state title game was canceled due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
“Obviously he and his family made a decision on what they feel is best for him and his future, and I respect that,” Bakersfield Christian coach Garrett Brown said. “They have to do what they think is best for him. I’ll never tell any parent how they should parent their kid and what they should do. They should do what they think is best. And so I support that decision.
"I wish Lendl nothing but the best in his progress and development, and he knows and his dad knows and his family knows that if there’s anything I can do to help assist in his recruitment or life in general, I’ll always be here for him.
The Eagles figured to be one of the area’s best teams next season, returning four starters from last year’s 27-6 squad. Henderson’s decision, along with that of senior guard Levi Latu, who announced he is transferring to Independence, are obviously big losses to overcome.
But Brown still has plenty of confidence heading into the season.
“In terms of Bakersfield Christian, we’ve adopted a saying or slogan this past year that through all obstacles, we’re going to find ways to win," Brown said. "‘Win anyways’ is what we say. With that being said, it’s going to be tough to replace what we’ve lost over the past year, but it’s going to be a collective effort of players and coaches. But the show will go on.”
The same could be said for Henderson Jr., who plans to commute to his new school for private workouts while taking online courses. Once the season starts, he will stay with an uncle in Santa Clarita, Lendl Sr. said.
“It was a tough decision, but we went down there a couple of times, he had a couple of workouts and spoke to the coach numerous times and so we made the decision,” Henderson Sr. said. “I feel like it was the best decision for him, and (Lendl Jr.) liked it as well. That was the main thing. If he didn’t want to go through with it then we would have stayed here.”
The decision to leave BCHS wasn't an easy one for Henderson Jr.
“It was really hard,” Henderson Jr. said. “I have a lot of memories at this school with all my teammates and I’m going to miss every single one of them, and Coach Brown, of course, but this is what I need to do to get where I want to be, so … It was a tough decision, but I had to make it.”