If you go to the Saint Mary’s University gym in Halifax looking for Joey (King Handles) Haywood, Ross Quackenbush will have a pretty good idea of where you might find his star point guard.
“Where’s Joey? Joey’s studying. He’s studying … all the time,” the Saint Mary’s Huskies men’s basketball coach says. “He’s made the academic commitment whole hog.”
For all the unthinkable things Haywood has done on the court this season while leading Atlantic University Sport in scoring as a first-year athlete, it’s what he’s done off the court that is perhaps his most satisfying achievement.
The 6-1 Vancouver native has maintained a 3.0 grade-point average as an arts student, focusing on psychology courses in pursuit of a career as a social worker.
That success is something he never dreamed of growing up in Vancouver. He was told in elementary school he had a learning disability and was placed in special classes.
“I was always in special classes … I never had confidence in myself,” he says.
“This is giving me an opportunity to see if I still have a learning disability, or, do I even have a learning disability? I don’t think I do, when I scored a 3.0.”
The 24-year-old says he’s one of the only people in his family who has gone to university.
He finished high school in 2002 and spent six years travelling the world on the streetball circuit.
Academics were never much of a consideration.
“I just always played basketball,” he says.
When Quackenbush recruited him last May after stumbling upon him in a pickup game, it changed his life.
“I hadn’t opened up a book since 2002,” Haywood admits.
“People say university is hard, but you put your mind to it and you can do whatever you want. It just takes determination.”
Haywood made a name for himself as a street-baller on the And1 Mixtape Tour, nicknamed King Handles for his magical ball-handling. But some wondered how Haywood would adjust to a more structured university offence.
Nine games into his university career and he is No. 1 in the AUS conference with a 20.6 points-per-game average. He also averages 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.2 steals.
Haywood is an entertaining player because of his skill level, but Quackenbush says the key to his success — on and off the court — is that he’s “always working so darn hard.”
“It’s no surprise,” Quackenbush says. “If you put the time in, you get the results. He’s one of the best players this conference has produced. And there have been a lot.”