The Saint Mary’s Huskies may not be having a great season, but Joey Haywood certainly is. The fourth-year guard, nicknamed King Handles from his legendary street ball career, is leading CIS men’s basketball in scoring at 28.8 points per game. The 26-year-old Haywood had 46 points on Sunday in an overtime win over UPEI at The Tower. It matched the school record for points in a game set by Mickey Fox in 1973.
On Wednesday, Haywood was named CIS athlete of the week for his exploits. Should he continue scoring at his current pace, he would break the AUS record for points in a season of 524 set by Acadia’s Ted Upshaw in 1980-81
It’s not like he was any slouch a year ago, putting up 488 points on his way to an all-Canadian second-team selection. He plans to be back in 2011-12.
“It’s been great,” Haywood said Wednesday of his personal achievements through nine games. “I put in a lot of work during the off-season. I’m just trying to get my team back on track.”
Haywood’s achievements aside, the Huskies have struggled through the first half of the season.
After losing standout players Mark McLaughlin and Ikeobi Uchegbu to graduation, Saint Mary’s started 0-4, albeit with a tough schedule, and have fought back to 3-6. Porous defence most nights has been the culprit.
Haywood, who aspires to play professionally and believes the NBA isn’t out of reach, said he knew he would be expected to take on a greater leadership role this season.
“Ike and Mark left and they were two pretty huge players for our team to lose,” he said. “I had to really step up my game, so in the summer I really had to work on my skills even harder.”
Saint Mary’s head coach Ross Quackenbush said it may be cliche that a player leads by example, but it fits Haywood.
“He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever had,” said Quackenbush. “There’s a reason why he’s as good as he is. He’s always here a little bit early taking shots and he’s always sticking around after taking more shots.
“He really does try to do everything we ask of him. He’s always going a million miles per hour playing defence in practice.”
Losing wasn’t part of the plan and it’s not something Haywood expects to continue.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “We have a really young team. I think we have the most talented team in the AUS or maybe in the CIS, but we’re not really jelling together. But I know it will come pretty soon, so that’s why I have to make sure I step up every single game. I can’t have a bad game.”
Haywood’s passion and talent came pouring out as a teenager and he made an early mark in the game as a dribbling demon in the popular And1 street ball touring series.
The crazy skills are all there, and they come out at times, but he’s had to mute some of the instinctive game in the interests of team play.
“I still have it in me and I think that’s why I’m doing pretty well,” he said. “I can use the street ball in the game, just not too flashy. Street ball has helped me go by defenders and open up my game … but I can’t have a focus on street ball because I have to play structured fundamental basketball. I can go back and forth.”
Quackenbush said Haywood has become a more complete player in his three varsity seasons in Halifax.
“He’s been able to integrate and balance the two aspects of the game and that’s what the best players do,” he said. “The best players can walk the fine line between playing with structure and at the same time being instinctive.”
Haywood said nobody should count out Saint Mary’s when the playoffs roll around. The Huskies are fifth in the standings and are only two points behind Acadia.
“Saint Mary’s has won the AUS a couple of times after starting with bad records. Nobody can sleep on us because we have a really talented team.”
‘I put in a lot of work during the off-season. I’m just trying get my team back on track.’
Saint Mary’s Huskies guard