By Miguel A. Melendez Staff Writer
John Haywood went on and on when describing his role as a senior guard on the Pasadena High School boys basketball team.
“I”m fast, I can put a spark on the team,” Haywood starts. “I can help my team in multiple ways like passing the ball and playing strong defense and motivating the team.”
Pasadena coach Tim Tucker summed it up with four words.
“He’s a floor general.”
Haywood is a three-year letterman whose subtle contributions on the court often go unnoticed. He remains a cool and collected regardless of the situation.
“It never changes,” Tucker said. “I’ve seen him come in sick and he still acts the same. You wouldn’t know it.”
He’s a role player when he needs to be, a defensive specialist with explosive speed that can posterize defenders regardless of size. It was his incredible athletic ability that allowed him to dunk over a 6-foot-9 center from Arizona earlier this year.
“He can get to the basket faster than anybody else,” Tucker said.
But he’s more than speed and brawn muscle.
“He’s the glue of the team,” Tucker said. “He’s the leader, and as he goes we go.”
Look for Haywood to lead the Bulldogs at 7 tonight when they host Beverly Hills in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA playoffs at Pasadena High.
On the surface it’s not hard to notice Haywood. His 6-1 frame and flat-top fade make him stand out, as does his vocal presence. While his numbers (9 point average, four rebounds three steals) don’t suggest star-like numbers, Haywood’s tailored his game to whatever his team needs him to be, and perhaps that’s when he shines the most.
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“Here’s a kid that is a Division I athlete if he was more selfish,” Tucker said. “He probably should get the ball 10 more times, but he doesn’t care.
Haywood’s made the adjustment since moving up to varsity as a sophomore. He was on the court two years ago at the Honda Center when the Bulldogs lost in the Division 2AA championship game. That he was there at all speaks volumes.
Haywood was on a path headed for a dead end, going through the motions like countless teenagers labeled a lost cause. Haywood often found on a truancy list as a freshman and cared little to none about academics. His counselor Mihn Tran proved relentless, helping steer Haywood back on track, literally. He’s on pace to graduate with his class after making up almost a full year of units his junior year.
While Haywood’s calling card is his poker face, he couldn’t help but light up with a smile when Mr. Tran is brought into the conversation.
“Mr. Tran, man, he’s a real good friend to me, yes sir,” Haywood says. “He helped me focused and said I could do it even when I was doing bad. He helped me maintain my focus and that I’d get through it.”
Even when Mr. Tran wasn’t his counselor, Haywood went to him first.
“John is one of those students that needs someone to believe that he can do it,” Tran said. “He has successfully understood that the only way to get that is to put in the time and work. We went through sweat and tears to get him back on track. I told him you’re truly defined with what you do. He’s been resilient, and this is the best year he’s had academically.”
Haywood will look to a junior college route and is adamant about transferring to a four-year university. His mind goes beyond basketball.
“My goal is to do it big for my family so I can get them out of the struggle,” Haywood said. “I’m not going to go far because my family motivates me a lot. If I do go to a JC I do want to transfer to a university so I can open up my business and do a lot.”
Haywood hasn’t hit the cusp of his talents, on and of the court, making him an even more valuable asset.
“I don’t know if we’ve maximized everything we could have gotten out of him in his years at PHS,” Tucker said. “He’s just a freak of an athlete. He elevates … I’d go as far as saying he’s one of the best athletes on campus.
“If he would have gone for football, he’s a show-stopping cornerback or a 1,000-yard rusher. He’s just that kind of kid that can do anything when he’s determined.”
And now he’s on track.