Badger’s Hayes backs up his words with action
OMAHA, Neb. -- Nigel Hayes, it is quite clear, loves a challenge -- whether he's taking it on himself or forcing it upon others. As part of a prank on a news conference stenographer Saturday at the NCAA tournament, the Wisconsin sophomore forward...
OMAHA, Neb. - Nigel Hayes, it is quite clear, loves a challenge - whether he’s taking it on himself or forcing it upon others.
As part of a prank on a news conference stenographer Saturday at the NCAA tournament, the Wisconsin sophomore forward delivered without a stammer a few AP-English-level vocabulary words like “cattywampus,” “onomatopoeia” and “antidisestablishmentarianism” and then rattled off a few more of his own like “prevaricate,” “soliloquy,” “quandary,” and “zephyr.”
“I actually like words,” Hayes said with a shrug. “It started at a younger age when my stepfather would tell me to read a lot of things, and I would not know what (a certain word) means. Once I learned it, I tried to read more words. It’s just fun to know words.”
More than anything, Hayes relishes the tests he delivers to himself on the court in the quiet when no one is watching.
At least when he thinks no one is watching.
“I found him dribbling a tennis ball and a basketball ball (at the same time) one morning at about 7-7:30,” coach Bo Ryan said.
This all has translated into Hayes being one of the most improved players in college basketball this season. While Frank Kaminsky is the face of the Badgers program as the pre-eminent player of the year candidate and Sam Dekker is noted as a future NBA player, Hayes’ accomplishments sometimes are overlooked outside of Madison.
He will be vital in today’s Round of 32 meeting in the NCAA tournament at CenturyLink Center between the top-seeded Badgers and No. 8 Oregon as Wisconsin attempts to continue a repeat run toward the Final Four.
There’s no more dramatic evidence of Hayes’ evolution than his 3-point shooting that skyrocketed from 0-for-0 as a freshman to 40.5 percent (32-for-79) this season.
“I was just trying to make sure I become a better, more well-rounded player by working on ball-handling, shooting, the footwork and all those things,” said Hayes, a Toledo, Ohio, native. “If I’m better, it also makes our team better.”
He’s playing nearly double the amount of minutes now, averaging 32.7 per game as a starter. But that doesn’t explain everything behind why his rebounds jumped from 2.8 to 6.5 per game and points from 7.7 to 12.5.
Besides that dexterity drill, Hayes is eager to use unconventional approaches to improve his game.
He has practiced on his own wearing goggles that prevent him from seeing the ball when he dribbles. He puts a cylinder over the hoop to make his shooting more difficult and - as a result - more precise. He rises at 4:52 a.m. to an alarm set with a motivational speech and heads to the gym about 5:15 a.m. to put up shots.
The work is paying off.
“If he has a shortcoming, it won’t be a shortcoming for very long,” Ryan said. “You might say, well, he’s not this, he’s not that. It’s really hard to say that there isn’t anything that Nigel can’t do eventually.”
It’s obvious Hayes backs up his words.