The Golden Boy

Numbers are overrated. ESPN currently ranks Pembroke Pines Charter (FL) guard Haanif Cheatham as the 22nd best shooting guard in the nation. If there are 21 better 2s than this silky 6-5, 180-pound senior, we must have slept right through their performances over the summer. Cheatham, who officially declared to the Marquette Golden Eagles last week, has an effortless flow to his game that at once dazzles crowds and befuddles defenses that don’t know whether he’s going to drive to the lane for a score or drop a slick pass off to a cutting teammate.

Numbers are underrated, too. Last season, Cheatham averaged over 26 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists per contest. He had four triple-doubles, too. “He missed another three by one or two points,” insists Pines Charter head coach Dave Roca. “Marquette is getting someone who puts his teammates in a position to be successful every single time on the court.” Roca adds how he feels new Eagles coach Steve Wojciechowski, a longtime Duke assistant, is the perfect man to lead Cheatham in college. “He’s a great guy. He’s a guy that’s been doing it at a very high level for a very long time. [Cheatham] is going to be Wojo’s Johnny Dawkins.”

But don’t just take Coach Roca’s word for it. Ask Drake about the homie—yeah, that Drake. A day after Haanif’s official Marquette announcement was made, Drizzy went to Instagram to give Cheatham a formal shout. The post has over 98,000 likes. Haanif won’t go into many details as to how he knows the rapper; he doesn’t need to. The mere fact he’s even remotely associated with the dude only adds to his mystique. What Cheatham will talk to us about, however, are the reasons he picked Marquette over Georgetown and Cal and his goals for the 2014-15 season.

SLAM: What kind of player is Marquette getting?

Haanif Cheatham: They’re going to get a versatile point guard, a combo guard. I’m a high-IQ player, a 6-5 guard. I’m willing to work hard every day. I don’t take any plays off. Even when I reach one goal, once I reach it, I’m trying to get to the next one. I’m in the gym every day. I’m going to make sure Marquette fans love me. I’m looking forward to winning a lot of games up there.

SLAM: Tell me what you loved about Coach Wojciechowski.

HC: Coach Wojciechowski is a great coach. He’s a laid-back coach but he’s the type of laid-back coach you want to play with. He gives the players a lot of freedom, but when it’s game time and it’s serious time, he makes sure that we’re grinding. When I was up there to visit [in late August]—he’s also a young coach—he was very fun to be around. Coach [Brett] Nelson, Coach [Chris] Carrawell, all the coaching staff, they’re great people. That’s the type of stuff I want to be around every day. I felt really comfortable there.

SLAM: What are some goals for your senior year?

HC: My team this year has a really good chance of getting to the state tournament, which is in Lakeland, FL. That’s our main goal. We actually had a tough practice today. Guys got after it playing games and stuff. We push each other. We argue. We yell. Once we get on a court and play as a team, we really play as a team. We love playing team ball. There’s no selfishness. Sometimes, when I have to take over, I do. But that’s only once in a while ‘cuz I love seeing the team play well together.

SLAM: I know you love team ball, but do you have any personal aspirations for the season?

HC: I’m trying to at least get my name out there for Mr. Basketball in Florida. I’m looking forward to having my 1,000-point ball this year. I got 988 right now. Also, I’m just trying to make myself a better person, a better player, in this last year of high school before my life changes when I go to college.

SLAM: Would you consider yourself a leader?

HC: I lead most of the time. When guys aren’t doing their thing, I can really get on them. But I make sure that when I get on them, it’s nothing negative. I make sure it’s positive and I make sure they pick their head up and go on to the next play. But if you’re messing up [on] back-to-back [plays], that’s you. I’m not going to stop our team ‘cuz you’re messing up; we gotta keep going. We got four main guards that have been there for three years already and we don’t wanna have that feeling of not going back to Lakeland. We just gotta make sure everybody know their role and how to play with us.

SLAM: What did that Drake shout-out on Instagram mean to you?

HC: It shows that he is showing support, like he always has. Now the Marquette fans are going crazy.