When Nigel Hayes decided to play his college basketball at Wisconsin, he knew he’d likely create problems.
Problems with his home state Ohio State Buckeyes. Problems with his ability to be noted if he was moving onto the next level. And problems with adapting to a defensive style of basketball that doesn’t neccesarily boast huge statistical nights for someone of his stature and ability.
Hayes was somewhat of a hidden talent to college scouts throughout his prep career, but when he exploded onto the scene as a more highly-regarded recruit a couple of years ago, most signs pointed to Ohio State being the favorite in the running for the Hayes Sweepstakes.
He was an in-state prospect, grew up as a fan of Ohio State, and was the younger brother of former Buckeyes’ football player Kenny Hayes. But that didn’t matter.
Early this season it’s easy to see why two of the top four teams ranked in the country, wanted the athletic forward from Whitmer, Ohio.
He’s long, he plays well with his back to the basket and given the opportunity when he faces up, he can take his man to the rim or simply rely on the 12-foot jump shot.
He’s shooting 50% from the field so far this season while averaging 15-minutes per game and nearly two rebounds. And while his 10-for-21 performance from the free throw line has been less than desired, it’s easy to overlook sometimes when all the other intangibles are so appealing to the eyes.
Hayes’ minutes haven’t been many, but they’ve been valuable for the 11-0 Wisconsin team that’s built a foundation of a strong rotation behind their starting five. He, along with the up-an-coming classmate of his, Bronson Koenig, is starting to step into a more noticeable role for Bo Ryan.
One only has to look as far as UW’s win over Florida earlier this season to understand how valuable of an asset he can be when on the court.
A dominant Patric Young, who physically overpowered junior Frank Kaminsky at times, had Bo Ryan look to Hayes to contain the Florida center. What proceeded to happen next was Wisconsin broke the Florida game open, leading the way to Wisconsin salting away a 59-53.
Critics say Hayes is more of an aggressive offensive mind than Kaminsky. And though Wisconsin’s record holder for points scored in a game (Kaminsky, 43) has done a lot to silence those same critiques since, Hayes continues to prove that he has a nice little mid-range game.
If Wisconsin wants to move through it’s Big Ten schedule in the same methodical fashion it’s gone about the first stretch of the season, it’s going to need Hayes to grow even more. With his specialty is on the low block, he’ll find himself moving more out of his comfort zone throughout the season and must concentrate on what some say is his best trait; his footwork.