Hogs’ Haydar a smart choice on, off court

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Arkansas' Kikko Haydar (20) celebrates after an Arkansas basket during the second half an NCAA college basketball game in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. Arkansas defeated Vanderbilt 56-33. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Photo by The Associated Press
Arkansas' Kikko Haydar (20) celebrates after an Arkansas basket during the second half an NCAA college basketball game in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. Arkansas defeated Vanderbilt 56-33. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

— If Kikko Haydar isn’t in class, studying or sleeping, there is a pretty good chance he can be found at Walton Arena.

“It’s my second home,” said Haydar, a 5-10 junior guard for Arkansas. “Growing up in Fayetteville, everybody loves the Razorbacks and loves Bud Walton Arena. I have the opportunity to be here every day, so I’m going to take advantage of it.”

Haydar, who helped lead Fayetteville High School to back-to-back Class 7A state championships in 2009 and 2010, technically is a walk-on for the Razorbacks, but he is on an academic scholarship thanks to earning a Bodenhamer Fellowship - only six of which are awarded to Arkansas students each year.

“On an average day, I’ll come to the arena a couple hours before practice and stay as long as I can after,” Haydar said. “I have studies I need to get done. Really, my life is class, practice, get some extra work in, homework and sleep. That’s all I do.”

Haydar is doing it all pretty well.

After being a straight-A student at Fayetteville, Haydar is carrying a 3.9 grade-point average - he made Bs in honors calculus and organic chemistry - while majoring in kinesiology with a pre-med focus and minoring in Arabic. He also has become one of the Razorbacks’ top reserves and in SEC play is averaging 4.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 19.3 minutes per game.

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“He’s one of the smartest guys on campus and a gym rat,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “That’s a pretty good combination.”

Earlier this week, Anderson named Haydar a team captain along with redshirt junior Marshawn Powell, who is one of seven Razorbacks ever with more than 1,000 points, 450 rebounds and 70 blocked shots. Powell said he is glad to share the captain’s honor with Haydar.

“It shows you what he does every day,” Powell said. “He’s one of the hardest workers I have ever seen in my whole life.”

“Kikko’s a winner,” Anderson said. “He’s a team guy.”

Haydar’s impact in games has been increasing since he scored a career-high 13 points and hit 4 of 4 three-pointers in the Razorbacks’ 80-67 loss at then-No. 3 Michigan on Dec. 8.

In 35 career games entering the Michigan game, Haydar had averaged 0.9 points, 0.5 rebounds and 4.2 minutes with 12 assists and 7 turnovers while shooting 24 percent (6 of 25) on three-pointers.

Beginning with Michigan, in his past 10 games, Haydar is averaging 5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 15.9 minutes per game with 15 assists and 1 turnover. During the same period, he has hit 51.9 percent (14 of 27) of his three-pointers.

“I think the reward for all his effort is he’s had an opportunity to play, and I think he’s making the most of it,” Anderson said. “Our guys enjoy having him out on the floor.”

Haydar was averaging 1.0 point per game before the Michigan game.

“I didn’t know who he was,” Wolverines Coach John Beilein said. “I thought he walked in off the street.”

Haydar no longer is a secret weapon. When he touched the ball against Ole Miss last Saturday, Rebels Coach Andy Kennedy jumped off the bench and yelled, “Shooter!” Haydar finished with 6 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds without a turnover in a career-high 24 minutes.

“I have great respect for him, and I told the young man that after the game,” Kennedy said. “I enjoy watching him play because he plays with maximum energy at all time, and at the same the time he’s under control.”

Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said the Commodores were well aware of Haydar before playing the SEC opener at Arkansas.

“That’s what every team hopes for, is a guy that nobody’s expecting much out of that comes in and gives you a lift, that plays far above what any expectations were,” Stallings said. “That’s what that kid’s done for them.”

Haydar said he considers it “a blessing” to be playing a key role the Razorbacks.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t see this season going quite like this, but I always thought if I just kept working hard, sooner or later something would give.”

Anderson said Haydar is producing whenever he plays.

“Every time he goes in, it just seems like our energy level goes up another notch,” Anderson said.

Haydar, who has a taken a team-leading nine charges, said he always thinks defense first.

“I think he’s just bringing some toughness that we need,” Anderson said. “He’s always where the ball is.”

Haydar, whose parents Adnan and Paula are Arkansas professors in the foreign language department and teach Arabic, was recruited by several Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Cornell and Columbia. He also was interested in Amherst (Mass.) College.

But when Haydar was told in the spring of his senior year at Fayetteville by then-Arkansas coach John Pelphrey that the Razorbacks wanted him on the team, Haydar said it was an easy decision to stay home. By then, he knew had the Bodenhamer Fellowship to cover his expenses.

“That allowed me to live my dream of playing for the Razorbacks,” Haydar said. “I can’t even express in words how grateful I am for that.”

Sports, Pages 17 on 01/23/2013

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