CRETE | Before he helped lead Duke University to three straight Final Four appearances from 1988-1990 and was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks, Phil Henderson starred as a McDonald's All-American basketball player at Crete-Monee High School.
Many of those who knew him then attended a memorial service on Saturday in the Crete-Monee High School auditorium in honor of Henderson, who died on Feb. 18 of an apparent heart attack.
Tears and laughter were shared as coaches, friends and former teammates addressed the crowd of about 200 people.
A common theme throughout the almost two-hour service was the desire Henderson had to help others, especially children, by designing and organizing basketball academies both in the U.S. and abroad.
Henderson died in the Philippines, where he had been working with a basketball academy he formed last year.
Henderson played professional basketball in Belgium, Mexico and in the Continental Basketball Association before retiring in 1995.
Among those who spoke was former University of Illinois and NBA basketball player Kendall Gill.
Gill, who starred for Rich Central High School, said he and Henderson got to know each other their junior year of high school.
He called Henderson a good basketball player, but also a good friend.
"He actually helped me out as far as getting discovered by other schools by telling me to go to a Five-Star camp with him," Gill said.
He said Henderson would call to encourage him both in college and when Gill played in the pros.
"Phil helped me become the player and the person that I have become today," he said.
Gill told a story about the time Henderson spent the night at Gill's home on the eve of a storied championship game of the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament their senior year of high school.
Gill said that Henderson's competitiveness took over during the game when on one play he closelined Gill's brother, who also played for Rich Central.
"I said, 'Phil, didn't you just spend the night at our house?'" Gill said.
Former Crete-Monee teammate Len Cooper invited other former teammates of Henderson's onto the auditorium stage as he fought back tears recalling his friend.
He called Henderson a humble person who welcomed children into his basketball camps regardless of whether or not they could afford it.
"He was determined to give back," Cooper said.
Former Crete-Monee basketball coach Will Rey talked of how Henderson hung around the team when Rey coached Phil's older brothers.
Rey said Henderson wanted to teach young players lessons in character as well as basketball.
He said Henderson came out to speak to the high school team Rey currently coaches on the north side of Chicago and advised the kids to be careful what they watch and listen to because it will influence their thoughts, actions and ultimate destiny.
"I know that all of us agree that Phil's life ended much earlier than any of us would have expected," Rey said. "However, his life was full."
Henderson is survived by his mother, seven siblings and six children.