ENID, Okla. — Denzil Haynes isn’t content just being on the first Northern Oklahoma College Enid men’s basketball team to reach the national tournament.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., freshman says he and his teammates, who will face the College of Southern Idaho at 4:30 p.m. in Hutchinson, Kan., Monday, have raised their goals to winning it all.
“My goal was to make nationals and win nationals,” Haynes said. “We got to win it.”
Haynes and his teammates will be prepared if they do win it. They had a ceremonial cutting down of the nets Tuesday to celebrate. NOC Enid — as the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference runner-up — qualified for nationals Saturday when regular-season champion Connors State beat NOC Tonkawa.
“That was pretty fun,” Haynes said. “I’m really happy for the sophomores.”
Haynes found it easier playing than watching as he followed the Connors-NOC Tonkawa game.
“I was pretty nervous because it was going back and forth,” he said. “We would have rather been playing in the finals and won it ourselves, but I was happy when Connors won.”
Haynes promises he won’t have those nerves against the Golden Eagles Monday in the biggest game of his life.
“We have worked hard for this,” he said. “We know we’re fine. We should do our job. Just being there and playing is pretty fun.”
Haynes, who has averaged 5.7 points and 4.8 rebounds coming off the bench, says he thrives under pressure.
“I play up to the level of competition, not down to the lower level,” he said. “The harder the competition, the better and harder I play. I’m going to give it my best.”
Haynes immediately looked up Southern Idaho after the bracket was announced Monday. He agreed with head coach Greg Shamburg that it was a good draw for the Jets.
“It will be a tough match-up this week, but we’re getting ready to go to war against those guys,” Haynes said. “They are not that big. They are like us — pretty small. I think we have the edge on them in heart.”
Haynes has shown a lot of heart in his work ethic to improve. He has put on 12 pounds of muscle in the weight room. Haynes has transitioned from center to forward with the Jets.
“It (junior college) was tougher than I expected,” Haynes said. “The athletes here are very strong and they’re tougher than they were in high school. I have to adjust to it. As freshman, I know I’m not as big or skilled or faster so I have to work to get better at it.”
Haynes is beginning to feel “more confident” as he sees more playing time.
“My role is to come off the bench and bring some defensive energy,” he said. “I help with the post guy. I just try to bring energy on offense and defense.”
Haynes 53.2 percent from the field this season and had 44 offensive and 96 defensive rebounds.
“I try to physically attack the rim,” he said. “I’m there to get rebounds and second-chance points.”
Haynes was discovered by the NOC Enid coach at a showcase in New York. Shamburg and Hasani Stewart, Haynes’ AAU coach, were acquainted. Stewart told Haynes Shamburg was “a good coach” who could help him.
“He told me Coach Shamburg would make me better,” he said. “I’m happy I came here. Everybody back home is excited for us to have made nationals.”
He has friends on three teams that made the national field and is looking forward to seeing them in Hutchinson.
Enid was “a very big change” for him culturally — a change he says was good for him.
“It’s more like a rural area,” he said. “It was different seeing a lot of land compared to buildings and cars everywhere. It’s been nice and I’m settling in pretty good. There’s a lot more quiet and calm. I can get away from the commotion and concentrate on school and basketball. The change helped me focus more on the books, my education and basketball.”
Shamburg is impressed with how Haynes has adjusted both athletically and culturally.
“It’s a big transition lifestyle for him,” Shamburg said. “He’s done a good job coming into a small town and making the adjustment. He’s having fun and learning how to play and all those things.”
“Denzil is a good kid,” said Jets assistant coach Connor Brooks. “We have enjoyed having him around. He plays hard and when you play hard, good things will happen.”
Haynes gladly gave up a chance to spend spring break at home to be practicing basketball.
“You can concentrate a lot more on basketball this week,” he said.
Haynes has had some breakout games this season — 15 points against Rhema Bible College, 20 against Sunrise Christian, 18 against Oklahoma City Metro Prep and 14 against Eastern Oklahoma for the 20-9 Jets.
“All of them are memorable,” he said about his freshman season. I remember all of them very well. This has been a good learning experience. This is when I get better for next year and try to come back to the nationals again. I’ve improved a whole lot since last summer shooting-wise, athletic-wise and strength-wise …. everything has improved a whole lot.”