When your living during COVID-19 times, life can be boring at times especially when you’re a professional player. It doesn´t get any easier when your in a foreign city like Haywood Highsmith is called Crailsheim that has a population of 32,000 people. Not too long ago, the American was playing in the States for the G-League club Delaware Blue Coats and even reached the big show playing 5 games for the Philadelphia 76ers. Today he is in the German easyCredit BBL which isn´t bad, but actually a top league in Europe, but still it isn´t the NBA. Today he is living in a simple apartment and only has the luxuries of the travel and hotels of the NBA in his memories. He also remembers the way he was spoiled in the NBA getting meal money and excellent room service in 5 star hotels, but on the other hand, he is an easy man to please as he lists his one special luxury in Germany having his own team car. The language barrier has been a problem as sometimes when he is alone and doesn´t have a German teammate to help him order, he has to figure it out himself. But other than that, the American is content with his current situation and really enjoys the fact how enthusiastic the fans in Crailsheim are for their team. But his eyes really light up when the topic of the NBA is brought up and January 8th, 2019 the day that changed his life. On this day he not only played two games in one day which is rather rare, but also played his first NBA game and even scored his first NBA points on his first shot. “I never played NBA Summer League with the 76ers as I was cut shortly before. But they gave me a G-League contract. I began the day beating the G-League Raptors team and then I went to the 76ers training facility and signed a contract. They told me that they would call me up that day for the night game against the Wizards. My whole family was there. We were winning easily against the Wizards and then coach Brett Brown gave me the call and the only thing I was thinking then was please don´t mess up. I remember the first time that I got the ball, I almost turned it over. I remember playing a floppy pin down screen with Shake Milton having the ball. I came down off the screen, got the ball and made the three pointer. I remember my family and teammates going crazy. It was my first day with the team and I made my first shot. It was a wild and great game. It was without a doubt the best day of my life”; stressed Haywood Highsmith. I don´t know how many he has already told this story to teammates and others and how many more times he will recount his first day in the NBA, but for now he is entrenched in Germany in the easyCredit BBL and is highly motivated to be an impact player at both ends of the court.
Haywood Highsmith is a 23 year old 198cm forward from Baltimore, Maryland that began his basketball career at Archbishop Curley High School. He then moved on to Wheeling Jesuit University (NCAA2) where he played form 2014-2018 playing a total of 110 NCAA 2 games. He had a stellar career there and was able to improve his scoring, rebounding and assists each season., In his freshman season, he became a starter near the end of the year and averaged 9.5ppg, 6.1rpg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 64.1%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 56.8%. He made another gigantic step in his next two seasons averaging 14.5ppg, 9.4rpg, 2.1apg, 1.2spg, 1.4bpg, FGP: 56.2%, 3PT: 35.3%, FT: 63.8% as a sophomore and as a junior averaged 15.4ppg, 11.0rpg, 2.7apg, 1.1spg, 1.2bpg, FGP: 60.0%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 64.0%. His development continued to go up as he exploded in his senior year averaging 22.0ppg, 12.5rpg, 3.0apg, 1.9spg, 1.8bpg, FGP: 55.4%, 3PT: 40.5%, FT: 75.7% wining the All-MEC Player of the Year award. He had many great games, but the pinnacle of his NCAA 2 career came when he won the AEC tournament in 2018 after having reached the semi-finals in his first 3 years. “After being so close the first 3 years, we really wanted to win it all. One of my teammates was hurt and couldn´t play and we wanted to win it for him. That was one of my top days in my life together with my first NBA game”, stressed Haywood Highsmith. In the 80-65 final win over Charleston, the American exploded scoring 31 points, hauling down 11 boards, dishing out 4 assists and had 3 steals. “It was a great game for me, but I couldn´t have achieved that without my teammates. I went into that game knowing that there was no way that I would lose. I went into the game with that killer mentality”, remembered Haywood Highsmith. He exploded that senior year scoring in double figures in all 31 games and had a stretch from November 18th to Feb 3rd where he scored 20 points or more in 15 of 16 games including 30 points or more in his last 4 games. “I believe that my aggressiveness and having that self-confidence that went through the roof helped me have that type of season I had as a senior. I also put in a lot of work that helped”, said Haywood Highsmith. The American who remembered having many one on one duels in practice with Jeremiah Wilson and winning them is also extremely thankful for having the guidance and push from head coach Danny Sancomb who played a big role in helping him become the player he is today. “Key with coach was that he always got the best out of me. He made me the best that I could be. He cussed at me at times, but that was simply tough love. You can´t ask more from a coach. I wouldn´t be where I am today without him”, warned Haywood Highsmith.
Highsmith who last watched the movie Tag left the NCAA 2 remembering two guys very well with Thomas Wimbush and Segr Bonifant who both have played in Germany with Ludwigsburg and Ehingen and will forever be etched in his mind as the toughest players he ever witnessed playing against. If somebody had told him in March of 2018 as he was finishing up school that he would be in the NBA shortly after the new year, it would probably been difficult to accept. “My dream was always to play in the NBA. I probably wouldn´t have believed it, but on the other hand, I wouldn´t have seen it as impossible. I did put in a lot of work in school to become as good as possible”, stressed Haywood Highsmith. He began his professional career in 2018 with the Delaware Blue Coats and quickly found his rhythm scoring in double figures in 8 of his first 9 games. He had a few off nights after that, but overall picked up his game scoring 20 points or more 4 times including 23 points against OKC and 22 points against Greensboro. He also dropped 22 points against Fort Wayne and hit Greensboro again with 20 points. Then came the call up to the Philadelphia 76ers on January 8. His NBA run in his rookie season would last 5 games. His second game was against Denver and then he went back down to the G-League until being called up in April again where he would play 3 more NBA games. Back in the G-League, he showed better consistency and finished the season strong scoring in double figures in his last 11 games. He continued to demonstrate his overall versatility in many games including a 10 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks in a loss against Windy City. He finished his first season in the G-League playing 45 games and averaging 12.3ppg, 6.9rpg, 2.5apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 50.4%, 3PT: 34.0%, FT: 66.7%. He scored in double figures in 32 games and had 5 double doubles. When the G-League season ended, he was called back up to the Philadelphia 76ers. He lost against Dallas and Miami, but won his last game against the Bulls. He scored 2 points in each game and increased his minutes in the last 2 games from 10 to 15 minutes. He didn´t have the pleasure to battle German legend Dirk Nowitzki who was out that game, but at least can tell his grand children one day that he dueled against Luka Doncic. “I really didn´t know anything about him. He had come form Europe, but quickly established himself and today is a top 10 player in the league. His skill level and how he operated was pretty scary. He knew what would happen before it already happened. I can see why he was a top player in Europe”, stressed Haywood Highsmith. Not only did Highsmith have the opportunity to battle against many great players in the few games he played, but also was extremely lucky not only having NBA superstar Jimmy Butler as a teammate, but also had his locker next to his. “Butler was an unbelievable worker. I remember always asking about his routine. It was really important that I could learn as much as possible. I can see why he was able to carry the Miami Heat to the finals. I remember asking him one day how many workouts he did per day. He said 3-4 per day. That is pretty impressive”, remembered Haywood Highsmith.
Even if his NBA stay was a short one, it is one that the Baltimore native will cherish forever. Even though that amazing experience was almost 2 years ago, he likes to think back to all the great moments he had. Like any guy that has been in the NBA and left, he definitely wants to return. There have been so many examples of guys reaching the NBA after many years in Europe with guys like Brad Wanamaker or Malcolm Delaney or guys that began in the NBA, went to Europe and returned like PJ Tucker. The American knows that nothing is impossible, but also knows that you need to trust the whole process 100%, because the NBA will be a business first forever. “You will see that anywhere you play, it is a business first. The goal for teams are to win. You see guys getting cut left and right and guys that could play not getting signed. You have to go into the situation prepared to know it´s a business. It´s not easy to stay in the NBA. It always depends on what role fits you. Nowadays all it takes is to be able to do one thing really well to help a team win. The NBA will always be a dream for me. I was there and the goal is to go back. I need to continue to put in a lot of work and just keep believing I can return. I don´t feel like getting back is impossible”, stressed Haywood Highsmith. In his second professional season he remained with the Delaware Blue Coats playing 43 games averaging 10.4ppg, 6.7rpg, 2.5apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 48.1%, 3PT: 33.7%, FT: 70.2%. He scored in double figures in 23 games and registered 6 double doubles. After having played in the NBA in his rookie season, the expectations may have been higher for him to put up bigger stats which he didn´t do. “The expectations may have been higher, but I wasn´t so disappointed with my season. There was a lot going on in Philly. I thought that I did what I had to do. I knew my role which was to guard the other teams best player, hit three´s and rebound. That second year was a good experience. I had good stretches and should have put everything together better. I was let down a bit with my shooting numbers, but overall it was a solid season”, warned Haywood Highsmith.
The American who lists guys like Shake Milton, Pat Moseh, Drake Goddard, Chris Carmody and Kyle Ritz as his best teammates of all-time has made the trek overseas to play in the German easyCredit BBL with the HAKRO Merlins Crailsheim. Like for many other players, he had to deal with COVID-19 the last months. He had a long road in 2020 to finally land with a new club, but did the best that he could with the new situation with his dealings on and off the court. “I was in the G-League and the season was first postponed and then cancelled. I went home not knowing what to expect. It was hard to work out with the lockdown so at first I trained at home and ran outside. Then I worked out with guys like Stanton Kidd and Keandre Cook who just signed with the Charlotte Hornets It was also a good opportunity for more family time and playing video games. Later in the summer, I went down to Miami to work out with guys like Ronald Taylor and Michael Beasley. Off the court COVID-19 helped become more patient and levelheaded and just let God figure everything out. I became mentally and spiritually stronger and got in better shape during COVID-19”, added Haywood Highsmith. After playing 2 seasons in the States, he took his time finding the right fit for his third professional season. “I really didn´t know anything about the country Germany or it´s basketball. I heard good things about the league in that it is a top 4-5 league in Europe. Frank Barkley who plays with medi Bayreuth also gave me advice saying it would be a good step for me. I chose the Merlins, because I wanted to play for a good team that has a good coach, enthusiastic fans and that fits my style. They needed a player that can do many things on the court”, stressed Haywood Highsmith. The club is off to a great start having won it´s first 2 games against MBC allowing only 66 points and then winning a shoot out against the tough Brose Bamberg. Highsmith is confident that the club will show the fans many sides of success. “We play a hard physical style and like to share the ball. We want to have the ability to hold teams down as well as score a lot of points. Our defense will determine this season how well we play. We will show many different ways of winning”, warned Haywood Highsmith. An instrumental factor in the success has been Canadian Trae Bell-Haynes who is leading the easyCredit BBL in scoring and assists and continues to prove that his ex coach Gordon Herbert of the Fraport Skyliners didn´t lie saying that he is the best penetrator together with ex Seton Hall(NCAA) standout Jordan Theodore that he has ever seen. “Trae is the ultimate point guard. He is a pass first guard, but can score also. He can make a lot of plays off the dribble and attacks the close out well. He is great at pushing the tempo and have to agree that he is one of best drivers that I have ever seen”, expressed Haywood Highsmith.
Highsmith who lists Jordan, Lebron, Kobe, Bird and Magic on his personal own NBA Rushmore is a player that best compares his game to NBA player Robert Covington. He is a special defensive player that is able to defend many positions. He is that classic three and D player which is his biggest asset on the court similar to a PJ Tucker in the way he plays. Even if he can score in double figures and haul down many rebounds, it may just be his defensive work that will be the biggest strength that he will give the Merlins. “I am able to guard different types of players from the positions 1-4. I like playing that tough and physical defense and getting over screens. Playing good defense is all about effort. I like picking up guys full court and making them work hard for everything”, stressed Haywood Highsmith. He also will give the Merlins offense a special quality that still seems to be under the radar. “People don´t realize that I´m a good passer. I love pushing the ball and throwing up lobs. I feel like I´m a pretty good playmaker for the 3-4 position”, added Haywood Highsmith. Currently he is off to a slow start on the offensive end averaging 4,5ppg, 3,0rpg, 1,0apg, but has found a rhythm on defense averaging 2,5spg getting 4 steals in the victory over Bamberg. It isn´t always easy to adjust to a new style of play. “There are different rules in the BBL. Attacking off a closeout and different defensive schemes are things I need to get better used to. The ball is different and three point line is closer”, said Haywood Highsmith. Having that first strong season in Germany is a huge priority and of course never letting that NBA dream slip away will be important as well as continuing to grind in the lab and improve his game. “COVID-19 helped me getting better shape. I have cut out bad food. I worked a lot on my lateral quickness last summer as well as ball handling. I want to become an even better playmaker and just all around better player”, commented Haywood Highsmith. The season is still young and Haywood Highsmith is no where near playing the game the way he knows how to play, but with head coach Tuomas Iisalo, he has one of the better head coaches in the easyCredit BBL that will help him adjust quicker as well as helping him add new nuances to his game. He may be farther away from the NBA like he would wish at the moment, but then again sometimes all it takes is one good season and right situation coming along to reach the big dance. With new added experience in Europe and added development in his game this season, if he ever does get that next first call back on to the floor in an NBA game, he surely won´t be thinking those words of “please don´t let me mess up”.