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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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Zhaire Smith has a clear goal for his first full NBA season with the Sixers

Zhaire Smith has a clear goal for his first full NBA season with the Sixers

Zhaire Smith has packed on some pounds this summer, most recently weighing in at 212 as he continues to grind in the weight room over the offseason.

“I’ve got a lot of goals, especially in the weight room, to get bigger, stronger and faster,” Smith said at the Sixers Summer Shore Tour in Wildwood, New Jersey.

There’s a reason that when you ask Smith about his goals this summer, he always makes a reference to the weight room.

After a severe allergic reaction nearly takes away your entire rookie season, leaving you in a hospital for weeks and with feeding tubes for months, gaining back the 40 pounds (and some) you lost becomes a pretty important goal.

“With all I’ve been through the past 12 months, and it’s been a crazy ride, a lot of bumps in the road, but we here now and I’m not looking back.”

If that crazy ride he’s been on has taught him one thing, it’s this:

“I know not to take the game for granted and work hard every day, like it’s my last.”

If you talk to those around Smith, you’ll find out quickly that working hard isn’t something the young guard takes lightly. He also knows that minutes aren’t going to be handed to him, and he’s ready to get to work.

“To get in the rotation, play hard and just do what I do and have fun with it,” Smith said of his goals this season.

Smith is also looking forward to practices and bonding with his new teammates.

“It’s going to be competitive. I can see it right now, that practice is going to be really intense and we are just going to go at it.”

On top of that, Smith is ready to soak up all the knowledge he can, especially on the defensive end.

“I’m looking forward to asking questions and learning, so it’s going to be a fun ride. I believe we are all going to bond together really quick and have a fun time.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: John Gonzalez on the Sixers' offseason and Brett Brown appreciation

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Sixers Talk podcast: John Gonzalez on the Sixers' offseason and Brett Brown appreciation

John Gonzalez joins Paul Hudrick for a lively conversation about the craziest NBA offseason ever and a moment to appreciate Brett Brown.

2:00: Craziest move of the craziest NBA offseason.
5:15: Keep Ben and Jo together.
12:12: Are the Sixers better of just different?
20:30: How to handle Joel Embiid and DNPs.
25:55: Is the East a two-team race or are the Celtics a threat?
30:13: Sorry, haters: Just a segment appreciating Brett Brown.

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More on the Sixers