Haywood pumped for USM

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 9, 2004

HATTIESBURG &045; Everything is new indeed with Southern Miss basketball this fall &045; all the way down to David Haywood’s hairstyle.

The former Natchez High standout is sporting new dreadlocks for his senior season and is like much of the entire program &045; there’s very little resemblance to the Eagles from previous seasons.

The biggest change is head coach Larry Eustachy, and the two-time national coach of the year has brought along an influx of talent in the hopes of earning the first winning season in Conference USA since 2000-01.

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&uot;It’s definitely more of an exciting time,&uot; said Haywood, who along with Dante Stiggers are the only fourth-year seniors on the roster. &uot;We’ve got some great players, new guys in with the mixture of the old guys. It’s my last go-around, but it’s good. Everybody is still excited about the football team, but this much talk about basketball is something new around here.&uot;

The university’s hiring of Eustachy is a big reason for that, and it’s something that’s welcomed with open arms by Haywood, the remainder of the returning players and everyone else associated with USM basketball.

The former Big 12 head coach at Iowa State was hired to replace James Green to get the Eagles back competitive again. It’s also a second chance for Eustachy, a successful coach with a 101-59 record who noted he hasn’t had a drink in 18 months while leaving ISU after admitting his troubles with alcohol.

&uot;I’m going to enjoy it,&uot; Eustachy said. &uot;I’ve got a feeling I really haven’t had. I’ve never been so rested and never felt better mentally. I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I just want to go out there and teach. I think we’re getting a lot more done &045; believe it or not &045; than I have in the past.

&uot;This is my fourth time doing this. The biggest challenge is I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a program with such a lack of interest. It’s going to be a real challenge to create excitement. When the interest is there, I think they’ll come. When they come, they’ll like what they see.&uot;

Eustachy knows a good bit about creating excitement, having landed at Idaho, Utah State and Iowa State in similar situations and never had a losing debut season. He brought in eight players to go with the seven returners to shake things up and be more competitive in conference.

&uot;I think his intensity in practice is a big thing,&uot; 6-8 junior center Jasper Johnson said. &uot;Coach Green was a good coach and is very intense, but he let his assistants do his coaching. Coach Eustachy is hands-on. It’s exciting to see a guy care that much.&uot;

The Eagles and the new coach first got a chance to start working two weeks ago when practices officially began, and the whole newness has taken some time to get settled.

The most noteable changed from last year’s team is the absence of post man Charles Gaines, but then there are five junior college transfers in the mix with the goal of installing some sort of foundation to this team.

&uot;It’s been OK,&uot; Eustachy said. &uot;Our team really lacks some mental and physical toughness. They don’t have it right now. It can be developed through tough, stressful practices, but it’ll take some time. We really don’t play hard enough. There’s a Brett Favre-mental makeup you’re born with and is developed, but I also think it’s God-given. It’s pretty typical for situations I’ve been in, and it’ll get better.&uot;

The juco transfers may be able to help in the post with Johnson, who was second on the team in scoring last year at 12.7 per game and had almost six boards a game. Then there is 6-9, 230-pound Shakeim Mitchell from Brooklyn, N.Y., and 6-8, 240-pound Dwayne Brown out of Kingston, Jamaica.

The outside presence is heavy, and the emphasis will be on the inside with the competition in conference.

&uot;It’s fine,&uot; Eustachy said. &uot;Jasper is real good, and I think Jasper will be fine. I think our strength will be our perimeter guys. We have more perimeter guys than inside guys. I like all these guys. I like them too much. I’m probably too easy on them.&uot;

Among the perimeter guys is the 6-4 Haywood, the outside threat who has come off the bench at times in his career. He started a career-high 12 games last season while appearing in all 28 games, and he canned 40 of 96 shots from the 3-point line.

&uot;Coach Eustachy and assistant coach (Steve) Barnes are really emphasizing to put the ball on the floor a lot for penetrating,&uot; Haywood said. &uot;Get inside shots. My game has expanded as far as penetrating. I’m pretty well-rounded this year. It’s always been a part of my game.&uot;

If the Eagles played today, Eustachy noted, Haywood would be in the starting lineup. The senior who will finish school next spring with a coaching degree (he earned a bachelor’s in May in accounting) could be primed to have his best season since he can play any of the three guard positions.

&uot;I think he’s going to be in the mix all year,&uot; the coach said. &uot;We can’t play all 14 players &045; we’ll play eight or nine. We’ll have a set rotation once we get this right, and he will be in that. But it’s a fine line whether you’re in that or not. That’s the best part of this team &045; competition.&uot;

Much of that, however, hasn’t been part of daily workouts with Eustachy. The Eagles have to get strong in other areas, including defense and just playing hard after having been picked to finish 10th in the 14-team conference.