Focus on a freshman: Union’s Brooklynn Haywood arrives

Union freshman Brooklynn Haywood brings up the ball against Mountain View last week in Union’s season debut. A freshman with a national following on social media, her game will be under a microscope as one of the best guards in the nation, for her age. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
Union freshman Brooklynn Haywood brings up the ball against Mountain View last week in Union’s season debut. A freshman with a national following on social media, her game will be under a microscope as one of the best guards in the nation, for her age. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

Star guard sets school record for most points in a game — in her second game

There is a hype machine associated with Brooklynn Haywood the basketball phenom.

She has, after all, close to 45,000 followers on Instagram. 

She has, after all, two Division I college scholarship offers — offers that were extended to her before she played her first high school game.

Brooklynn Haywood is practically a brand name already.

Forget about the hype for a moment, though. Forget the present-day offers and the dozens that are sure to follow. Forget the social media videos showcasing her skills.

Forget all of that and just try to visualize Brooklynn Haywood on the basketball court. No, not in a game. 

On a court. 

Working out. 

On her own. 

For hours. 

Doing what she loves.

And remember this: Brooklynn Haywood is a freshman.

Brooklynn Haywood had only played club ball before her high school debut last week. Being introduced in front of peers was new for her. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
Brooklynn Haywood had only played club ball before her high school debut last week. Being introduced in front of peers was new for her. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

More importantly, know that this is the life she has chosen, the life she leads, and the only way she believes she can realize her dreams.

“Honestly, basketball is kind of like my best friend,” Haywood said last week, a day before making her high school basketball debut with the Union Titans. “I’m always playing basketball. I’ve met so many people and I’ve made so many relationships through basketball. I’ve grown up with basketball. I’ve gotten more mature from playing basketball. Basketball has helped me be the person I am.”

Basketball, she said, brings her joy.

“I have to make it fun. If I don’t make it fun, I’m going to get tired,” Haywood said.

Nope. Ain’t tired yet.

“I always make my workouts fun, even though I’m going hard and getting better. I’ll find something to laugh about … in every workout.”

Brooklynn Haywood’s shooting form is impressive. The freshman from Union scored 23 points - her jersey number - in her high school debut last week against Mountain View. This week, she set a program record with 35 points in a game. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
Brooklynn Haywood’s shooting form is impressive. The freshman from Union scored 23 points – her jersey number – in her high school debut last week against Mountain View. This week, she set a program record with 35 points in a game. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

So, in her mind, she is not pushing herself too much when she works out most mornings at 6 a.m. before going to school. She is not pushing herself too hard when she goes to another workout after basketball practice in the evening. And she is certainly not pushing herself beyond her limits in the classroom as she looks to maintain a 4.0 grade point average in this, her first full year in public school.

For Haywood, all of this is the norm.

The hype machine expects her to be great.

In reality, Haywood wants to exceed those expectations.

Brooklynn Haywood is more than just a shooter. Her ball handling skills are top-notch, and due to weightlifting for the past four years, she has the strength to get to the hoop and finish. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
Brooklynn Haywood is more than just a shooter. Her ball handling skills are top-notch, and due to weightlifting for the past four years, she has the strength to get to the hoop and finish. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

Helping her along the way are her parents, Mark and Jennifer, and a number of coaches and personal trainers through the years. That includes Clark County standouts Matt Conboy and Ashley Corral. 

“Brooklynn is phenomenal,” Corral said. “She’s just naturally talented but she works harder than most kids I know. She’s in the gym a lot. Her path works for her. She really loves playing basketball. Some people might have a misconception. People who don’t know her don’t understand: Some people are just gym rats. They love basketball. She’s one of those people.”

Game recognizes game.

Corral runs Legends Basketball Facility by Ashley Corral Performance Training. Corral, a 2008 graduate of Prairie High School, played in the McDonald’s All-American game as one of the top 24 players in the nation. She shined at the University of Southern California before playing professional basketball around the world.

The Union student section created quite the atmosphere as fans wanted to get a glimpses of the new Union girls basketball team. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
The Union student section created quite the atmosphere as fans wanted to get a glimpses of the new Union girls basketball team. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

Matt Conboy runs Conboy Basketball. He also is a Prairie graduate (2001) who went on to an All-American career at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. He has held camps and clinics all over the world, but his home base of operations is right here in Clark County.

He also is the reason why the Haywoods now live in Vancouver. 

Haywood has played for Conboy’s club team, traversing the nation in search of hoop glory.

“She’s the best guard I’ve seen, her age, in the country,” Conboy said. 

The basketball community, local and national, has taken notice, too, as evidenced by all her followers on social media.

Still, she had not played a high school game until last week.

The season opener was going to be an event — The Event — at Union High School. A school known more for its boys basketball program, there was a buzz surrounding the debut of the girls basketball season. Then that opener was postponed.

The student body was not going to wait until the next home game on the schedule. Instead, a large contingent made the short trip to Mountain View two days later in order to witness that first game.

Union rolled. Haywood had 23 points and 12 rebounds. Ava Smith was draining 3-pointers all night. Rowyn Riley scored nine points in about 30 seconds — a three-point play, a steal and a 3-pointer, and then another 3-pointer on the next possession. 

The Union fan base went bonkers.

Union girls basketball had arrived.

The Union Titans got a victory in their frist game of the season last week, and Brooklynn Haywood (23) got to experience, for the first time, really, a game in front of a student section. Haywood is a freshman, who has played club ball all over the country but never for a school … until this season. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
The Union Titans got a victory in their frist game of the season last week, and Brooklynn Haywood (23) got to experience, for the first time, really, a game in front of a student section. Haywood is a freshman, who has played club ball all over the country but never for a school … until this season. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

Oh, and this was all new for Haywood. A student section? What’s that?

“It was so cool. The energy was so different from what I was used to with AAU ball,” Haywood said.

That’s right. Club ball crowds usually consist of parents and basketball junkies. That’s it.

High school basketball, with classmates, friends, cheerleaders, well, high school basketball can create an atmosphere. 

“It got our confidence level up knowing that people were coming to see us,” Haywood said. “We played better because people were in the gym.”

Earlier this week against Columbia River, Haywood scored a “quiet” 35 points, setting the program record for most points scored in a game.

“I thought I had 25 or something like that. I wasn’t shooting the greatest (in the first half),” she said.

Which means that when she gets it going for all four quarters — watch out. That 35-point record might not stand for long.

Oh, and if Union’s opponents get tired of having to defend Haywood for the next few years, they can blame Conboy.

The Haywoods are from Alaska. One summer, Brooklynn and her mother were visiting relatives in Las Vegas. Brooklynn was into basketball, but it was not her only focus. Still, she saw that there was a basketball camp going on in Vegas at the same time as their visit.

Brooklynn asked if she could attend the camp — a camp run by, yes, Matt Conboy.

Jennifer said yes, under one condition. Brooklynn had to pay for the camp. Brooklynn, who had saved some birthday money, paid the entry fee.

“My rule is she pays for the camp, but if she works hard and does well, I’ll give her money back,” Jennifer said. “I want her to learn that nothing in life is free. You have to be able to work for everything. You have to earn. She paid for the camp, went down there, and met Matt for the first time.”

Brooklynn was 9 years old when her life changed.

She excelled in the grade school session of the camp. Conboy asked if she could stay for the middle school session.

“She was on that floor for seven hours,” Jennifer recalled. “I had to yank her off the floor to eat lunch. It was the first time she was being pushed. She ate it up.”

Conboy remembers that introduction, as well.

“Her commitment level was off the charts, even back then,” Conboy said. “She was the one. I knew right away, there was something different about her.”

The family returned to Alaska, and Brooklynn announced that she was done with all other sports. She had one love. Basketball.

She ended up training with Claude “Muff” Butler, an icon of Anchorage basketball, as well as former college and professional player Alysa Horn. 

Many of Brooklynn’s sessions with Horn started at 5 a.m. And the kicker? Brooklynn had to get herself up before her parents would take her to the gym.

“We’re blessed in the fact it’s never having to pull teeth with her or drag her there,” Jennifer said. “She sets her own alarm clock.”
Jennifer and Mark both worked as police officers. Jennifer’s shift, at this time, ended after midnight. 

“I’d tell her, ‘You need to get up and get yourself ready.’ She would get up in the morning, make her own breakfast, get herself ready, and then wake me up,” Jennifer said. “I would always tell her, ‘If I have to make you do it, we shouldn’t be doing it.’”

Brooklynn never missed a chance to get on the basketball court. 

And the Haywoods kept in touch with Conboy. 

In the summer before Brooklynn’s seventh-grade year, Mark and Brooklynn spent three months in Clark County in order to train with Conboy every day.

“When we went back to Anchorage, it was like night and day,” Mark said. “People asked, ‘What are you doing? What happened?’ There was just a huge leap in skills.”

The family knew they would eventually leave Alaska in search of more competition, more training opportunities for Brooklynn.

Mark and Brooklynn ended up moving to Clark County prior to her eighth-grade year while Jennifer worked one more year in Alaska prior to retirement. Mark also is a retired law enforcement officer.

With Jennifer and Mark both retired now, the whole family moved into the Evergreen School District’s boundary and Brooklynn enrolled at Union High School.

“We chose Vancouver because of Matt. Matt has been really good for Brooklynn,” Jennifer said.

Brooklynn, and her parents, are open to working with a number of personal trainers and coaches. In fact, it is encouraged. So these days, Brooklynn has been working a lot with Corral.

“I’m not for everybody,” Corral acknowledged. “In my training sessions, we go pretty hard. She always accepts feedback.”

Brooklynn has to have tough skin — living with her demanding parents. Mark and Jennifer do not sugarcoat things. Let’s just say that Mark and Jennifer have an old-school approach to sports parenting. It might not be popular these days, but they let Brooklynn know when they see things they don’t like.

“I see them on the sideline, I know when he’s mad, I know when she’s mad. I can tell. ‘Oh no.’ Car rides are fun after bad games,” Brooklynn said, dripping in sarcasm. “Yeah, car rides are fun.”

For Jennifer, it’s mostly about hustling. If she feels Brooklynn is not giving her best effort, that sets her off.

“Sometimes I need them to get on me. Who else is going to do it? They know my game the best,” Brooklynn said. “Sometimes I need it. Other times, not so much. ‘Can you guys please stop?’”

Mark said he is trying to improve his own behavior.

“We’ve had our ups and downs. A lot of it is me trying to figure out a way to communicate with her in a positive way,” he said. “When I take a step back, once I’m not so emotional, I realize she’s doing a lot of good things. Her thing right now is, ‘Dad, let me fix this myself.’” 

A perfect segway into high school basketball. Gary Mills, the Union basketball coach, does not allow parents at his practices. That has been beneficial for Brooklynn and her parents, as Brooklynn makes this transition.

“At high school practices, they aren’t there,” Brooklynn said, then looking at her parents: “You’ve got to let me try to figure out what I’m doing wrong myself.”
As long as Brooklynn keeps hustling and the grades are strong, all should be fine in the Haywood household.

“If she doesn’t handle it in the classroom, she’s not on the court,” Jennifer said. “I don’t care how good she is and how great she’s going to be, if you’re not pulling the grades, you’re not playing.”

But what Mills has experienced, and what Conboy and Corral have witnessed, there is a family dynamic there that might not be for everyone but seems to work for the Haywoods. 

“As far as I can see and my interactions with them, Brooklynn wants that. She is competitive. She wants to be held accountable,” Corral said.

“There are rare exceptions,” Conboy said of demanding parents and their athlete children. “I think their family is going to be one of them.”

This is the Haywood family’s way to achieve what Brooklynn wants for her future.

“Ever since I started getting serious about basketball, I’ve always wanted to go DI and play in the WNBA,” Brooklynn said. “Those are the goals I have set for myself. I haven’t forgotten them. I want to reach my goals, and I’m not going to stop until I get there.”

The family system seems to be working, too.

But again, forget about the accolades and projections and the recruitment, and enjoy the moment. Brooklynn isn’t worried about choosing a college right now, nor does she care about how many likes she gets on Twitter. (Her father runs her social media accounts, by the way.)

Nope, she is just looking forward to her next game, and this whole season with a brand new experience, playing with school teammates in front of her peers.

“She’s an ultimate teammate that way,” Conboy said. “She is going to get a lot of shots, but she is going to be happy finding a teammate in the corner for an open shot.”

“She does an amazing job celebrating her teammates,” Mark said.

“I’m focused on my team and the goals we set for the season,” Brooklynn said “We want to be the best rebounding team this year. We want to keep good energy throughout the whole game, get hyped for our teammates. And we want to make it to the dome.”

That would be the Tacoma Dome, home of the final 12 teams in the state tournament.

“On our shooting shirts, we have 140 on our arm. That’s how many miles it is to the dome.”

In that regard, she is no different than any other high school basketball player in Class 4A or 3A. The Tacoma Dome is the destination of choice.. 

Still, there is a bit of added pressure on a player such as Haywood. All of this attention, so soon, at 14 years of age.

“I try not to think about it. But when I do think about it, there is definitely some pressure on me. There is a target on my back,” Brooklynn said. “I have to prepare myself for that every game.”

Brooklynn uses the attention as motivation.

“It helps with my work ethic. I want to keep working. I don’t want to stay the same or plateau. It makes me want to work harder.”

The Union Titans flash The U sign after winning their opening game last week. Union might not be favored in the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League - Camas remains strong - but the Titans say they believe they can still make it to the Tacoma Dome for the state tournament. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen
The Union Titans flash The U sign after winning their opening game last week. Union might not be favored in the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League – Camas remains strong – but the Titans say they believe they can still make it to the Tacoma Dome for the state tournament. Photo courtesy Heather Tianen

Conboy said that is what college coaches are going to be looking for in the coming months and years. Haywood already has the talent to play in college, but will her drive remain strong? Will she show progress?

Corral might be best equipped to understand what Haywood is about to embark on in high school. Corral was a starter for the most decorated program in the state when she was a freshman. There was no social media back then, but there was still a lot of hype. By the end of her junior year, she had dozens of offers. But she wasn’t perfect. And that’s OK, too, Corral said.

“When it comes down to it, the root of why you’re playing high school basketball is so important,” Corral said. “If you have a bad game, it’s not that big of a deal. Have a short memory. Short-term memory is so important when it comes to sports and when it comes to life. Not every day is the same. Remember why you are doing what you are doing in the first place.”

Haywood just has to remember that basketball is one of her best friends.

“I just go on the court, play my game, have fun,” Brooklynn Haywood said.

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Steve Leonard
Steve Leonard
1 month ago

Stop interrupting the stuff I want to see

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