As soft-spoken and thoughtful as ever, Tayshaun Prince seemed like the appropriate former teammate to explain Chuck Hayes’ place in Kentucky basketball lore. You see, Hayes had an understated, yet cerebral way on the basketball court.
True basketball bennies — to borrow from UK Coach John Calipari — could best appreciate how Hayes affected the outcome of a game. Those of us addicted to highlight dunks, flashy passes and three-point shooting struggled to see the art of positioning and the willingness to stay within the boundaries set by the coach.
“Chuck was a guy who really, really went out there and gave his all,” Prince said last week.
Reflecting on Hayes’ impending induction in UK’s Athletics Hall of Fame, Prince said, “The one thing we asked of Chuck . . . was to go out and defend a lot of different people. Rebound the ball. Just do a lot of the little things.
“And you see what that has taken him to.”
To borrow from Bruce Springsteen, out of little things big things came. Hayes is one of only three players to lead Kentucky in rebounding three straight seasons (Dan Issel and Cotton Nash are the other two).
Although never a dead-eye shooter (24.4 percent accuracy from three-point range for UK), Hayes scored 1,211 points in his career.
But, as Prince suggested, it was the little things that defined Hayes’ value as a player.
“Tubby Smith had a lot to do with that,” Hayes said of his UK coach. “He was big on defense. He was big on the little things. Big on attention to detail. And I just took it and I embraced it and applied it to my game.”
With a soft smile, Hayes said he came to Kentucky with a team-first attitude. “But I just maximized it to the fullest level once I got here,” he said.
The same was true in his NBA career.
“He’s one of the best post defenders the NBA has seen at that size . . . ,” Prince said of Hayes, who is 6-foot-6. “People would tell me throughout my career, and you would just hear talk on the bus or talk in the locker room. People would say all the time, ‘Man, I can’t score on Chuck Hayes. I don’t know why I can’t. The guy is 6-6. I don’t understand.’”
Hayes mastered the art of positioning. He beat the offensive player to the spot. And at 240 pounds, he was hard to move off that spot.
Plus, Hayes was fully committed to defense. “Oh man, I took it personal . . . ,” he said. “I didn’t want them to get the best of me.”
For fans of a certain age, Hayes could be likened to Wayne Embry. He earned the nickname “The Wall” as a 6-8 center who used positioning and a tree trunk physique to hold his own against such all-time big men as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond in the 1960s.
“He made a niche for himself,” Hayes said, “and so did I.”
Hayes, who went undrafted and began his pro career in the Development League (Albuquerque Thunderbirds), played 11 seasons in the NBA.
“That should be a testament to a lot of guys who aren’t in the league . . . ,” Prince said of Hayes’ pro career. “This guy has really perfected a skill set. And look how long it has lasted for him in the league.”
Here are updates on two former UK players who were in Lexington last week.
Tayshaun Prince came to help in a fund-raiser for Special Olympics Kentucky. It raised $10,000.
Prince, who played for UK from 1998-99 through 2001-02, is a free agent who might be interested in continuing his NBA career. But he’s being choosy.
“There have been a couple teams interested,” he said. “But nothing’s gotten serious yet. Right now, it’s just a waiting game. . . . I want to see what’s out there and what’s going to be right for me. And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy not playing.”
Chuck Hayes (2001-02 through 2004-05) has taken a front-office job with the Denver Nuggets. He described his duties as a mix of player development and scouting.
When the Nuggets are at home, he helps players hone skills. When the Nuggets are on the road, he scouts prospects.
The possibility of college players transferring and being immediately eligible at the next program alarms at least two of the five new members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Board of Directors.
“It would open a door that should never be opened,” Cleveland State Coach Gary Waters said. Without the requirement of sitting out a year as a transfer, “all of a sudden you have free agency,” Waters said.
Cleveland State, which plays at Kentucky this coming season, knows all about transfers/free agency. In recent seasons, Waters has seen three players transfer away: Trey Lewis (to Louisville), Anton Grady (to Wichita State) and Bryn Forbes (to Michigan State).
Waters envisions rival recruiters “at your games seeing if they want your players.”
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin, who also is a new NABC Board member, saw the growing number of transfers (approaching 1,000 annually nationwide) as a reflection on more than college athletics.
“We all want instant gratification,” he said. “We want the first job to be CEO. We no longer want our first job to be the guy who makes coffee. We all want instant gratification.”
When problems arise in the athletic world, the impulse is to leave, Martin said. “As soon as something happens or someone’s not happy — the young man, a family member, a former coach — we don’t stay the course and figure out a way to find a resolution.”
Waters and Martin pointed out how players transfer from high school to high school, AAU program to AAU program. So players are conditioned to explore options.
Martin called for patience. “Unfortunately,” he said, “people don’t have patience. We all want a problem fixed, like, yesterday. Problems don’t get fixed that easily.”
Martin and Waters acknowledged that the NABC cannot do much beyond call attention to the growing number of transfers.
Waters said he would support transfers by players who have graduated. “They’ve earned it,” he said.
But the Cleveland State coach questioned whether players who transfer because a school does not offer a class or major are truly motivated by academics. In hopes of playing somewhere else, a player will look for a course their school does not offer, he said.
“It’s become an academic,” Waters said before correcting himself. “It’s become an epidemic.
“Freudian slip,” he added.
(Not as big) Blue Madness
No matter the sound and fury, Big Blue Madness won’t be quite as big this year. At least the prelude to UK’s Madness will be smaller.
UK has allotted less space for tents at this week’s campout for tickets. The campout, which is a point of pride for Cats fans and a demonstration of devotion to Kentucky basketball, reached its capacity of 585 tents last year.
Because of on-campus construction and the school’s desire to maintain as normal a student atmosphere as possible, the space for camping this year will be reduced to 400 tents. That’s about a 32-percent reduction.
Basically, fans can camp on the east side of Memorial Coliseum (closest to Rose Street), but not the west side.
In an announcement on its website, UK encouraged fans to get their Madness tickets online at Ticketmaster.com.
Fans can begin setting up tents at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Madness tickets will be distributed (and begin being available online) at 10 p.m. Friday.
Guy Ramsey, whose title is athletics communications strategist, said UK considered moving the Madness campout to a more spacious part of campus. But UK decided to keep the campout in its traditional place next to the Coliseum and the team dorm, now known as Wildcat Coal Lodge.
As for next year, Ramsey said he could not be sure if UK will return to the space for 585 tents.
Love of recruiting
New Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury has turned heads by getting commitments from five-star big man Mitchell Robinson and four-star shooting guard Josh Anderson. Both are rated as top-50 prospects in the class of 2017. Both are from Louisiana.
A story often told by Stansbury might help explain how intently he recruits. It involves him becoming head coach at Mississippi State in 1998 and his pursuit of Jonathan Bender, arguably one of the most ballyhooed prospects to come out of Mississippi.
“I’d been recruiting him for three years as an assistant,” Stansbury said last month. “I’d just gotten married the year before. . . . I fell asleep thinking of Jonathan Bender. I didn’t fall asleep thinking of my wife. Now, she didn’t like that. I’ve told that story, but that was the truth.”
Bender committed to Mississippi State, then decided to go directly from high school to the NBA.
“A player like that, the best in the history of Mississippi State, to be taken away from me at the last minute,” Stansbury said. “That was hard because I put so much into it for four years recruiting that kid. It was a heart-stopper. And the next one didn’t hurt quite as much.”
Later, highly regarded prospects Travis Outlaw and Monta Ellis also committed to Mississippi State, then decided to go from high school to the NBA.
Fit for a King
Ex-Cats DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere will have a new NBA playpen this coming season. The Sacramento Kings open a new arena named Golden 1 Center.
The new downtown arena cost $556.6 million, which is $79 million more than the estimate when the Kings broke ground in October 2014, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The Golden 1 Center will seat 17,500. Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney will help open the arena with concerts scheduled for Oct. 4-5.
To Dakari Johnson. He turned 21 on Thursday. . . . To Rodrick Rhodes. He turned 43 on Saturday. . . . To Matt Heissenbuttel. He turned 35 on Saturday. . . . To Cliff Berger. He turns 70 on Sunday (today). . . . To Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He turns 23 on Monday.