In 1994, East Bakersfield High School had one of the best and most heavily recruited basketball players in the country. J.R. Henderson would lead his high school Blades to the state basketball championship and would choose to play basketball for the UCLA Bruins. A true phenom, Henderson would be a starter his freshman season. Naturally, we wanted to do a big profile on him at UCLA. Reporter Quran Spears and I did the story. We spent three days with Henderson in January, 1995, and were given all the access we wanted. I followed him around campus. I photographed him doing what any homesick freshman does – calling home. I shot him visiting with his girlfriend. Coach Jim Harrick, who had a reputation for not being media friendly, welcomed us and gave open access to the locker room and practice. J.R. was happy to do it, too.
The J.R. Henderson profile got huge play in the January 22, 1995 Sports section of The Bakersfield Californian. Almost the entire front page and a full double truck inside (two open pages side-by-side.) Ten color photos accompanied Quran’s profile. Later in the season, Henderson’s production dipped a little bit. A Los Angeles Times reporter asked him about it. His answer? A reporter and photographer from his home town had come down and did a story on him, and threw off his game. Yep, you’re reading it here. Thrown under the bus in an LA Times article by a freshman basketball player. He was just a kid, and I probably would have said the same thing. It cracked me up, it didn’t get me mad.
Henderson would break out of his Bakersfield Californian-induced slump in time to help lead the Bruins to the NCAA national championship that season, the last time they’ve won it. And good thing, because I’d feel real bad if Quran and I cost UCLA a national championship!