Haywood, Eagles like challenges

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

David Haywood doesn’t like to overlook anyone. Haywood and the Southern Miss basketball squad, for one, can’t overlook anyone coming off a rough season a year ago.

The Golden Eagles are on the tail end of their non-conference schedule having played LSU and William Carey in the last seven days with contests against Auburn and UNO awaiting.

But get Haywood thinking about Conference USA and the caliber of competition the Golden Eagles will face, and the former Natchez High standout gets his blood going.

Email newsletter signup

Especially now with the Southern Miss feeling much improved over last year’s 5-11 mark in conference.

&uot;We’re playing the real big dogs there,&uot; said Haywood, a starter in three of USM’s nine games. &uot;I love it because I love the competition. People talk about all types of games, but I want to just compete with them. I’m up for the challenge. I can’t look that far ahead, but just thinking about it &045; I get excited.&uot;

It’s easy to do since he and the Eagles like their chances this year. But first things first, and that means solidifying a spot on the floor doing whatever he can for the Eagles &045; be it starting or coming off the bench.

The 6-4 Haywood started just five games last year as a sophomore but came off the bench in the team’s 24 other games and averaged 6.6 points a game. So far this season he’s started three of the team’s nine games, including the last two against William Carey Monday and at LSU last week.

&uot;I’m just trying to do the best I can,&uot; Haywood said. &uot;I’m just trying to get the most out of each game. My team is looking for me to step up and make big shots. I just feel I’ll take it as a challenge. They need my outside shooting. They’re needing me to step up and do more from the outside, and I’ll take it as a challenge.&uot;

When he’s on the floor, that’s basically what they ask him to do. His height can be cause for matchup problems for some, but the biggest thing going for him and the offense right now is the matchup down low with the 6-9, 223-pound Charles Gaines in the middle.

The senior has led the Eagles in rebounding in every game this year and is the team’s leading scorer at almost 19 points a game.

It was Haywood, Gaines and others returning from last year that folks in the Pine Belt area are feeling a little better about USM basketball. Not only that, but the Eagles’ surprise 63-61 win over Cincinnati at the Conference USA tournament last year put a positive spin on a regular season of frustration through the ultra-tough league.

Haywood is one of four starters back from last year’s team. Playing in Conference USA presents a big challenge, but that’s what challenges are about.

&uot;Chemistry is still not all the way there, but it’s coming,&uot; Haywood said. &uot;We’re getting better every day. I think we can do more in the tournament if we’re focused. The Cincinnati game showed us how good we can be if we all play together and get focused. If we’re focused and ready to play, we can compete with anybody.&uot;

Adam Daigle

is sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at (601) 445-3632 or at