Haywood Highsmith took the road less traveled en route to the NBA.
Or one that was barely traveled.
Highsmith, a Baltimore native and Archbishop Curley graduate, played his college basketball at Wheeling Jesuit, a Division II school in West Virginia. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward played four years for the Cardinals. He averaged 22 points a senior in 2017-18, after which he was named the Division II Conference Commissioners Association's National Player of the Year.
Highsmith went undrafted, but he took part in the Philadelphia 76ers' minicamp ahead of the NBA Summer League. Though he didn't play for any team last summer, he hooked on with the Delaware Blue Coats, the 76ers' NBA G-League affiliate, in the fall. The Sixers signed Highsmith to a two-way contract Jan. 8 -- the same day he played in a game for the Blue Coats in Philadelphia -- and he made his NBA debut for the Sixers
made a 3-pointer
and played five minutes in a 132-115 win against the Washington Wizards. He's since gone back to the Blue Coats. He's averaging 13.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists during 25 games this season.
"Not a lot of guys come from a Division II school on their road to the G-League and the NBA like I did, but there have been stories in the past that gave me a route to get there," Highsmith said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Jan. 23. "At a Division II school, I always just tried to work hard and just let everything else take care of itself. I never thought, 'Hey, I could probably go to the NBA from here.' I just worked my hardest to try to become the best basketball player I could be."
Highsmith referenced Jaylen Morris, who played his college ball at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute (N.Y.) and has played in 10 games the past two years for the Atlanta Hawks, as a Division II player who was able to reach the NBA. Highsmith also referred to Thomas Wimbush, who played at Fairmont State (W.V.) and is currently playing for the G-League's Long Island Nets.
At Wheeling Jesuit, Highsmith developed into a pro prospect with a broad skill set. He shot 55.4 percent from the field -- and 40.5 percent from 3-point range -- as a senior, and he helped in other ways, too. He averaged 12.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals.
Highsmith averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds per game and was named to the All-MIAA B Conference squad
as a senior at Curley in 2013-14
, but he said he came a long way as a basketball player once he got to college.
"I didn't really understand the grind of basketball in high school," Highsmith said. "I definitely was talented and skilled. I just wasn't developed in a lot of ways -- my body, sometimes skill set. I was definitely skinny and not really athletic. I didn't understand the grind. I feel like if I understood it in high school, I probably could've gone to a Division I school."
The shooter he turned into at Wheeling proved fruitful for his ambitions. He's shooting 37.2 percent from 3-point range with the Blue Coats, and the ability to shoot from deep is becoming more and more of a prerequisite to play in the NBA.
Highsmith said he wasn't much of a shooter when he was growing up in Baltimore; players from Baltimore tend to be "tough guys who just are physical, like driving to the paint, getting fouled," according to Highsmith. If his shooting ability blossomed late, his ability to defend, however, did not.
"Growing up in Baltimore, you've got to be able to defend the ball," Highsmith said. "If you don't, you'll look like a fool on the court because there's a lot of good basketball players in Baltimore who can dribble, take you to the rim and make you look dumb or stupid. You've definitely got to learn how to defend your man, not get punked in Baltimore because people are definitely going to laugh at you, they're going to tell you about yourself, and people are definitely going to talk trash to you."
Now, Highsmith gets to play his game not far away from where he grew up. The Blue Coats play at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Del., and his mother, Brenda, can see him play.
"It's just fun having family around. I'm definitely a big family man. I'm definitely a momma's boy, so having her here is definitely fun," Highsmith said. "Seeing her happy and seeing her proud of me definitely was my goal, … and I'm definitely doing that. It's definitely been fun just having my family around and friends around and everyone coming to games and stuff."
Photo Credit: NBA Photos
To hear more from Highsmith, listen to the full interview here: