Daigle: Haywood all smiles these days

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

When things hit bottom for the Southern Miss basketball Eagles, David Haywood was right there with the rest of them. The season ended in a tailspin with a first-round exit at the conference tournament, a 6-10 mark in the league, the departure of head coach James Green and just the apathetic response of the public to USM basketball.

How bad did it get? Green couldn’t make it through the season and quit just before the final regular season game. The Eagles dropped that game at home to East Carolina and folded in the first round of the Conference USA tournament to St. Louis.

It was ugly, and Haywood &045; the former Natchez High standout &045; was relieved when it was over.

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&uot;We had a team that was a very talented team, but it was a very underachieving team,&uot; he admitted. &uot;We just never were really together.&uot;

The merciful end brought another sign of better things to come &045; the hiring of troubled former Iowa State head coach Larry Eustachy. The coach beat everyone to the punch in admitting he was an alcoholic, has sought treatment and was thankful for the second chance after his much-publicized departure from Iowa State.

Just like that, Golden Eagle basketball is starting to look good. Eustachy has won everywhere he’s been, and he wants to do the same in Hattiesburg.

&uot;He seems like a pretty much straight-forward coach,&uot; Haywood said. &uot;(His admission) gives you a chance to give him a little respect. A lot of people try to hide and run from it, but he was open about it. He acknowledged he had a problem and got help. He got a second chance, and he said he’s ready to coach basketball.&uot;

But from a personal standpoint, Haywood admitted his ears perked up considerable once he and the new coach started talking X’s and O’s. Haywood, the 6-4 shooting guard who started in 12 games last season, struggled to find a role in Green’s offense that featured a heavy emphasis on half-court basketball and plenty feeds to 6-9 Charles Gaines in the post.

Haywood had stretches where he was hot from the perimeter, but the opportunities to do that night-in and night-out were few and far between.

&uot;We’ll be a lot more up-tempo on offense,&uot; Haywood said. &uot;All he wants to do is guard and rebound, and the first open shot on the other end he wants us to take it. I’m looking forward to playing in that type of system, especially on the offensive end. I think the slow-down game limited my opportunities. I’m looking forward it. Everything leads to offense.&uot;

But that’s not all that’s got Haywood smiles now. You see, he earned his bachelor’s degree on Friday in accounting with a GPA just under 3.0 in his core classes. He’ll be a senior in the 2004-05 season, and he’ll enroll at grad school starting this fall.

&uot;It’s a good thing,&uot; Haywood said. &uot;A lot of athletes go to school and kind of forget about the academics. They have to come back for a semester or two. It’s a good thing to be able to finish and have another year to play.&uot;

And life is plenty more enjoyable now.

Adam Daigle

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