By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
- Curtis Haywood II loves the taste of winning.
He should. He’s come to know it quite well.
“I love winning. Winning, it’s in my DNA. It’s what my family does. It’s what I love,” said the 6-5, 198-pound native of Oklahoma, City, Okla., who didn’t lose a game his final two years of high school prior to arriving at Georgia Tech this summer. “I just try to play as hard as I can and I try to keep winning everywhere I go.”
Everywhere includes his home state, where the versatile guard was a part of the 28-0, state champion at Mustang High School in 2015, as a sophomore, then averaged 20.9 points per game on 62.5-percent shooting as a junior.
For his senior year, he brought his winning ways to the northeast, helping Prep power Brewster Academy to a 33-0 season, the New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) AAA championship and the school’s fifth title in eight seasons. As a co-captain, he averaged 12.0 points, 4.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and team-high 2.1 steals per game.
He’d be named second-team All-NEPSAC yet managed to elude the radar of most schools.
Not Georgia Tech’s however.
Coach Josh Pastner and his staff saw something in Haywood -- perhaps it was his ability to score at the rim and from the perimeter and defend both the 2 and the 3 with his 6-foot, 11-inch wingspan -- and offered a scholarship to him early on. Georgia Tech and Tulsa were the only schools to do so.
Conversations with Pastner and assistant coach Tavaras Hardy went a long way to sealing the deal.
“(Pastner) was energetic, very energetic,” Haywood recalled. “He had a big smile on his face. He made me feel like I was a part of the family the first time I met him. When I met with Coach Hardy, too, he just took me under his wing, and I just felt great.”
That was important as Power 5s schools Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, and Illinois and mid-majors George Mason and Siena reached out after seeing Haywood at the November National Talent Showcase. But by that point, Haywood had visited Georgia Tech. Basically, it was game over.
“Everything separated it,” he said. “I went by academics, and I went by city. The community and just the Institute as a whole. It was just a different environment from other schools.
“The atmosphere, the coaching staff, the players and just Atlanta, period. It was all just a great feeling,” he added. “It felt like home. It’s just been a great experience, and I love it here.”
Curtis has loved the level of practice thus far.
“It’s been competitive. Everybody’s been going at each other. We’re trying to make each other better and get ready for the season,” he said. “It’s a great thing that we have. The vets and the newcomers, we’re all scrappy. We like to trash talk. We try to be competitive with the older guys. I’m very versatile. I play both ends of the floor. I just do whatever it takes to get my team to win.”
Pastner likes what he sees from Haywood thus far.
“He’s been around winning, he makes winning plays,” he said. “He’s just got to stay sound and solid. He gets himself in trouble when he starts trying to gamble and do things that he takes himself out of the right position. So being really sound and solid is a big thing for him.”
Pastner is even okay with Haywood talking a little trash, although that comes with one condition.
“If he’s going to talk a little bit, he just has to back it up,” he said, with a smile.
Occasional spouting off might be the only issue Pastner’s had with the freshman class thus far.
“We have a good group of guys. They really have good chemistry, they get along,” he said. “The key is to maintain that as we continue to go through games, if we hit any adverse situations. But we have good guys, good young men and Curt’s a big part of that.”
Haywood, who rooms with sophomore and team captain Josh Okogie and fellow freshmen Evan Jester and Jose Alvarado, believes the freshmen already have a strong enough bond to weather just about any storm.
“We’re getting together great. We were all here over the summer, we’re all real close,” he said. “We’re like brothers now. It’s a great thing that we’re all here together.”
That bond has transferred to on the court.
“We all can make plays and get each other open and make each other better as a whole,” he said. “It makes it dangerous. It makes it REAL dangerous for the ACC this year.”
Of course, before the ACC journey begins, there is the season-opening trip to China.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “China will be the furthest I’ve ever been. My dad played overseas, and he’s been to China, so he’s told me about it. It will be great for me to go.”
Curtis Haywood, Sr., played pro ball for almost a decade, highlighted by a couple of weeks with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, and including winning a CBA title with the Lawton-Fort Sill Cavalry and playing in such diverse locales as Hamburg, Germany, Cyprus, Syria, and Saudi Arabia -- with a total of 20 international teams in all. Curtis, Sr. has proven a valuable resource for his son.
“My dad’s been a great help. I talk to him every day,” he said. “I try to Facetime him and my mom and just connect with them and tell them how I’m doing every day. They just tell me to keep praying and just keep holding on because I’ve been through a long journey. It’s helping me get here, so I just have to keep fighting and keep doing good things.”
“It's very important,” he said. “I want Ben and Tadric to make it to the tournament so bad. It’s going to be a great feeling. We’re going to make it. That’s the goal and that’s what we’re trying to do.”