Stephen F. Austin's Desmond Haymon: Small-town guy, big-time shooter

Stephen F. Austin's Desmond Haymon: Small-town guy, big-time shooter
Stephen F. Austin's Desmond Haymon, left, tries to prevent Virginia Commonwealth's JeQuan Lewis, right, and Jordan Burgess from stealing the ball during the Lumberjacks' upset win Friday. Haymon has flourished in his leadership role with the team. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO — If nothing else, Desmond Haymon has a keen sense of timing.

In this year of the upset, with small schools making big noise at the NCAA tournament, Haymon needed just five seconds to become a star.

His desperation four-point play — a three-point jumper and subsequent free throw — in the final seconds of regulation helped Stephen F. Austin State University defeat Virginia Commonwealth in overtime in the second round.

Now the Lumberjacks, on a 29-game winning streak, have a chance to make more headlines against UCLA on Sunday.

"Everything happens for a reason," Haymon said.

The kid from small-town Mississippi has found a perfect stage, his heroics adding to a March Madness filled with surprises like Mercer toppling Duke and North Dakota State beating Oklahoma.

His coach isn't surprised that he has stepped up at a crucial moment.

"I can't say enough about Desmond," Brad Underwood said. "Not only is he a good player and a clutch player, he's the best leader I've ever been around in my life."


Though Haymon might seem like an overnight success, his big chance has been a while coming.

The journey began in Pickens, Miss., a town of about 1,300 people. The place is so small that Haymon felt like he was moving to the big city when he enrolled at Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas.

The transition was made more difficult by a broken wrist in his freshman season and the death of his sister, who succumbed to cancer.

"I've been through so many things growing up," Haymon said, adding: "I had to be strong and continue to keep my faith in God knowing that good things come to those who wait."

Haymon returned as a sophomore to lead the team in three-pointers, and then boosted his average to 10.6 points as a junior, helping the Lumberjacks to a Southland Conference regular-season title and an NIT bid.

This season, the newly hired Underwood instituted a more aggressive offense and Haymon has averaged better than 14 points, cementing his leadership role.

"He controls our locker room, he controls our practice every single day," Underwood said. "He's a mentor to our young guys."

Three clutch free throws saved a game against Marshall in November. On Friday night, that grit showed against VCU.

Haymon struggled through the early going, making only one of three shots and turning the ball over. He recalls telling himself: "This is my senior year and I can't let my teammates down."

A pair of free throws and a short jump shot kept the score close in the waning minutes. Then came the play that made highlight shows around the country.

Taking the ball on the wing, Haymon let loose with that three-pointer and ended up on his back.

"I just tried to run out and just contest it," VCU guard JeQuan Lewis said. "Jumped to the side a little bit and kind of fell down on him. The ref called a foul."

Not only did Haymon sink the tying free throw with 3.6 seconds left in regulation, he added another three-pointer and a rebound in overtime as the Lumberjacks won, 77-75.

Now the Bruins have to wonder if the kid as another star moment left in him.

"It did mean a lot for that shot to go down," Haymon said of his effort against VCU. "But we're focusing on something else right now."

It's all about timing.

Twitter: @LATimesWharton