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Get to know Sixers rookie Haywood Highsmith

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Get to know Sixers rookie Haywood Highsmith

On Tuesday night, Haywood Highsmith became just the second active Division II basketball player to receive an NBA call-up. Hours before the Sixers tipped off, Highsmith had just finished playing in a game for the Delaware Blue Coats, before driving to the Sixers practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, to sign his two-way contract.

Before the game, even head coach Brett Brown said he likely wouldn’t see any time for quite a while.

But Highsmith’s story has been everything but predictable, so when Brown called his number with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter in Tuesday night’s win over the Wizards, he once again defied the odds.

From Baltimore, Maryland, to Wheeling Jesuit University, to getting cut from the Sixers' summer league roster to being signed in the G-League, to stepping up on the NBA stage for the first time in his life, it’s been quite the ride for the Sixers rookie.

We wanted to get know a little bit more about the newest addition to the Sixers' roster.

Let’s starts with basketball as a kid … who introduced you to the game, when did you first pick up a basketball and what was your relationship like with the sport growing up?

My father really introduced me to the game, because he played basketball until his college years. We’ve really bonded over it. I probably started playing around the age of two or three but started shooting on a regular hoop at like four or five.

Can you remember the first time that you beat your dad on the court?

I think I was like 13 and I went up for a dunk and almost made it. So after that, he's like, okay. I think I'm getting too old for this. This is crazy.

After playing four years at small school Wheeling Jesuit, Division II player of the year, you’re having trouble getting any NBA teams to meet with you … Are you still thinking that you'll be able to make basketball a career? Or is that when doubt starts to creep in?

Yeah. I didn't know what path I was going to take, whether I was going to go overseas or try to play in the G-League, but I talked with my family and got an agent who definitely thought that I was an NBA-caliber player, and we stuck with a good plan. There were definitely some ups and downs throughout the path, to where I am now, but this was one of the organizations that gave me an opportunity and it was really inspiring for me to just get an opportunity like that. Some doubt definitely came in every now and then, but I always felt like I could play overseas somewhere. The question to me was if I could play in the-G League or the NBA.

Take me through some of those ups and downs…

You definitely have to have mental toughness as a person to go through stuff like that. I got cut from the Sixers' summer league team, a day before they left for Las Vegas, which was kind of hard to swallow as a person, as a basketball player. But, when you have a family support system like I do, they always encouraged me and kept making me feel positive. We just stuck to a path and stayed patient and like people said, good things come to those who wait, and a good thing came with the G-League team.  

So when you got the call-up, and after your Blue Coats game that you played in earlier that day, that you’re going to be with the Sixers, what’s going through your mind?

My mind was just going a lot of places. Was this really happening? Was I dreaming?

And then, I had to go straight from my game against Raptors 905 to Camden (where the Sixers' facility is) to sign, and then straight from signing to the arena to play for the Sixers.

And then, not even a practice and probably don’t expect to get time, but you score your first NBA bucket, and it so happens to come from your Blue Coats teammate, Shake Milton.  What do you think you'll remember most from that night?

I'll probably consider that like one of the greatest days of my life right now. A lot of memories, putting that jersey on and walking out to the crowd in probably the biggest arena I've played in since I played basketball, just joyful. From where I came from, and just to be a part of something like that. It's just crazy to see how that happens and my family was there. One of the greatest days of my life definitely.

Time for some fan questions …

How did you come to get arguably the best basketball name ever?

Me and my father actually share the same name. He's a senior and I'm a junior. I've heard that a lot that I've had a great basketball name. Every time I was in school and my teacher announced my name on the first day, they would always say, ‘Wow that's a great name.' So I'm used to it.

Do you have any nicknames?

Some people call me Hay. Some people call me Wood. Some people call me Haywood. My coach one time called me H squared cause I have two HH's, double H, H squared, I don't really like that one though.

So it sounds like fans need to come up with a new nickname?

Yes, definitely.

How do you like your cheesesteak?

I'm a big cheesesteak guy but I've tried to stop eating them because they're not healthy for a guy like me. But provolone cheese, no tomatoes, no ketchup, salt and pepper on a nice roll. 

What current player you looked up to and why?

Definitely a big Kevin Durant fan, just a humble person like I am, so one of my favorite players I've ever watched. He's from the D.C. area, which is not too far from me, where I'm from, so I look up to him. I like watching Paul George as well, who does a lot of everything. A two-way player, superstar type of player. Those two I definitely watched a lot of growing up, trying to play like them. 

What current Sixer has the capability to help out your development the most?

A lot of them. But Jimmy Butler, someone who has been in the league for awhile and been in big games, and just been a great player in the league, and another guy that came from a later pick (30th), and an All-Star type of player. His toughness, his grittiness, I can definitely learn a lot from him

What's something you've learned about Philly that you didn't know before?

They call this city the City of Brotherly Love, but you don't actually know that until you get in the city and see how it is, see the vibe of the city. The city of Philly is amazing. I've even gained like 3,000 followers since I've been here!

Do you have a favorite quote/saying?

Good things come to those who wait. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. 

Interests outside of basketball?

I definitely love food. My aunt makes tremendous salmon cake. I like seafood, being from Maryland. I'm a big animal guy too. I like tigers and lions. I used to watch Animal Planet back in the day, they had something called Big Cat Diary that I used to watch with my father, it was a show on big cats, lions, leopards, stuff like that. And I play Madden and 2K.

What advice would you give to other non-D-I athletes?

At the end of the day, if you are talented you are going to get your shot somewhere. Just because you don't go D-I, doesn't mean your opportunity with the NBA or G-League is over. I am living proof that if you have a goal, and you stick to a path, and you have support around you that you can get there. It might take time, but you just have to be patient. A lot of people don't understand that patience is a good trait to have as a person because a lot of people aren't patient, can't wait and just want to get there without putting all the hard work in. It takes a lot of hard work to get here, but once you get here, it feels amazing, and my message would be, keep grinding. You can get here from anywhere.

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Sixers to host Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Delaware

Sixers to host Blue X White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse in Delaware

In what’s become a tradition, the Sixers will host their annual Blue X White Scrimmage on Oct. 5.

Your first chance to see the new-look squad will come at the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, home of the team’s G-League affiliate, the Blue Coats.

In years past, it’s also been an opportunity for the fans to see the players in a more laid-back setting. The players that have been here have enjoyed participating.

They’re great. Our players get it,” team president Chris Heck said to NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Our players understand how important Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley is to the 76ers and they’re excited to get the season started. We open training camp on Oct. 1, and this will be the first chance for anyone in the area to see our players play in what we think will be a very exciting and winning season for the 76ers.

There are an awful lot of new players to see, including two-fifths of the starting lineup with Al Horford and Josh Richardson coming on board. It will also be the fans' first chance to see rookie first-round pick Matisse Thybulle and veteran pickups Kyle O’Quinn, Trey Burke and Raul Neto live as Sixers.

Part of the reason for the move to Delaware is to accommodate the demand for tickets. The 161,000-square-foot-complex held its first Blue Coats game on Jan. 23, and has also held Cardi B and O.A.R. concerts, plus large-scale corporate events and local high school graduations, in addition to youth camps and weekly academies for basketball, soccer, lacrosse and volleyball.

As the team has continued to improve, the need for more space has heightened.

It has grown in the sense where it’s harder and harder to provide as many seats to the demand that’s out there,” Heck said. “It was really important for us to move it down to Delaware this year because our fan base in the first state is so strong and so close to Philadelphia as well. This is the perfect opportunity to re-launch the Fieldhouse, by bringing Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and the likes of all our team, including Brett Brown, back down to Delaware to launch our season.

The event is definitely fan- and family-focused. It will have an entire fan zone that will feature inflatable games, face painters, balloon artists and additional carnival games. Fans can also participate in an NBA-style combine. They can also win prizes from Chick-fil-A and TruMark Financial, receive free haircuts for their kids by Maestro’s Classic and register their children ages 4 to 14 for the 76ers Kids Club, presented by Five Below.

The Fieldhouse features indoor and outdoor, multi-purpose artificial turf fields, Titus Strength and Condition Center and Nemours Center for Sports Medicine.

If you’re looking to score tickets, you must sign up for the SixthMan Fan newsletter. More information on how to secure tickets will be communicated through the SixthMan Fan newsletter in the coming days. Both Sixers’ and Blue Coats’ season ticket members will receive access to a presale featuring a limited amount of free tickets. 

The Sixers are expecting a game-like atmosphere.

I think it will be exactly what it’s like during any of our games and any time our players are a part of the community — which will be loud and fun and energized and positive,” Heck said. “That’s why I think this city and the Delaware Valley as a whole has embraced the 76ers so much over the last several years. We are a team that represents the community and that’s fun.



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The legacy of Charles Barkley is present in Sixers' quest for title

The legacy of Charles Barkley is present in Sixers' quest for title

CAMDEN, N.J. —  With Charles Barkley having a statue unveiled on Legends Walk at the team’s practice facility Friday, there were plenty of living legends in attendance.

Former teammates like 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Jones and the ever-present World B. Free were there. Barkley’s first NBA coach and Hall of Fame player Billy Cunningham was on hand to say a few words. 

The craziest may have been a story about Barkley almost not even being a Sixer.

When we were getting ready to draft, it was probably the best draft I can ever remember," Cunningham said. "It was Michael Jordan, [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Sam Perkins, etc. And [then-Sixers owner] Harold [Katz] loved Charles Barkley. But the story before that was we had the No. 1 pick from the Clippers and a week or 10 days before that — Bill Fitch was the coach of Houston and the reason you have the lottery today is because of this — they dumped every game, which allowed them to get Olajuwon. So Charles, you might not have been sitting here if they didn't dump those games. We might have had Olajuwon or Michael Jordan here.

The next person to speak was current Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who has plenty of experience with … well ...

I can't believe that Coach Fitch dumped games to get high draft picks. Can you believe that, somebody, to get high draft picks, dumping games? I don't know what you're talking about.

After the laughter quieted down, Brown spoke frankly about Barkley’s legacy. Brown mentioned Barkley’s impact on his current team as it came out the other side of The Process.

While the idea of the Sixers getting to draft Jordan or Olajuwon would’ve been incredible, who knows if their careers would’ve wound up the same. Barkley landed in Philly and there may not have been a better place for him or a better player for the city of Philadelphia.

Barkley was fearless, both on and off the court. He never backed down from a challenge on the floor and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind off it. 

Fierce competitor — the attitude he played with, the hustle, it screamed out Philly. It is Philly,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said. “And your DNA is still currently in this team today. When I'm thinking of team building, I'm thinking of heart. Players that don't back down, that are fierce. A player that's going to be selfless and try to win. So when I pursue a championship this season, you're still here — your DNA is still in this organization and in this current team.

Paul Hudrick

Brand, like Barkley, was considered undersized for the power forward position at 6-foot-8. All Brand did was get drafted No. 1 overall, win Rookie of the Year, become a two-time All-Star and have a 17-year career. At 6-foot-6, Barkley became a Hall of Famer and was one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game.

All of that started for Barkley in Philly as he played alongside Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Barkley credits Malone with helping mentor him and forcing the man affectionately known as the Round Mound of Rebound to lose weight. 

Barkley’s hope is that the Sixers are doing that now with holding Joel Embiid accountable for his health. He also hopes that people in the organization are doing that for Ben Simmons, who Barkley said is "going to be one of the best to ever do it" if he improves his shot the way he saw Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan did.

Barkley still loves his former team and believes they’re a legitimate championship contender with their two young All-Stars leading the way.

The Sixers have everything. I put a lot of faith in Ben and Joel. Listen, let's be realistic, and you guys know this — the Sixers were probably a bounce of the basketball from being the champs last year. … Now, they're on everybody's radar. Joel was crying after the game, which let me know, hey, we all cry after games like that. But now I gotta get better. I love the addition of Al Horford. I love the addition of Josh Richardson. The Sixers got everything in place. Everything in place.

Part of the foundation Brand and Brown have built is based on the rich history of the franchise. Sure, other teams may have more titles but what the Sixers have is nothing to gloss over. This is the franchise of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Cunningham, Dr. J, Moses, Maurice Cheeks, Jones, Barkley and Allen Iverson.

None of that is lost on Brown.

The statues that you see, I use often with our players to have a look at what you pass as you enter our practice facility. To be able to come into our practice facility and look up and see the banners that this organization has had the privilege of calling a 76er is truly breathtaking for me. Some of the people in the room — Doc's not here, Wilt has passed, A.I. — you can keep going. You go to many programs and you're just not having that history right in front of you. We appreciate, maybe more than you know, your legacy and what your brought to this organization.

Barkley talked about how all of the coaches and players that helped him from the projects in Leeds, Alabama, all the way to Houston, deserve credit.

Your life isn't just about you. Every player, coach from Leeds High School, Auburn, eight years with the 76ers, four years with Phoenix, four years in Houston — every coach and player I've ever played with gets a little piece of this sculpture.

And with Barkley’s legacy still present with the Sixers, a piece of a championship would be his as well.

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