SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Chuck Hayes was talking about practice and couldn't have been happier.
"It's been a long time since I've been excited about practicing," Hayes said Saturday morning at a news conference before taking the court.
Hayes returned to practice Saturday after a whirlwind of emotion for nine days. On Dec. 15, Hayes learned a heart abnormality was discovered during his physical. His contract then was voided by the Kings last Monday.
Three days later, Hayes was declared healthy by heart experts at the Cleveland Clinic, and he re-signed with the Kings on Friday night for four years and $22.4 million.
Kings Coach Paul Westphal wished Hayes a Merry Christmas before telling him what he'd be getting after the holiday.
That would be defensive matchups against two of the NBA's best power forwards: Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers in Monday's home opener at Power Balance Pavilion and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge on the road Tuesday.
"After what I've been through, I wouldn't mind taking Gasol and Aldridge as Christmas presents," said Hayes, who returned to Sacramento on Friday night.
Hayes also was named the team captain Saturday. It was the latest sign of the impression he made on his teammates his first week as a King.
Hayes already was vocal in meetings and on the floor and earned his teammates' respect.
"I feel honored," Hayes said of being the captain. "It's much appreciated. I'm going to try to live up to my duties as captain."
Being a captain was far from Hayes' mind when he was told of his abnormal test results. Hayes said "it felt like I got hit with a sledgehammer.
"By them being the experts and (me) not knowing what it is, that just scared me because, obviously, I don't know anything about the heart. It was just a weird chain of events."
That led to a series of tests. MRIs, CAT scans and blood work. Then there was the Kings' decision to void Hayes' contract because he'd failed his physical.
"There are certain time frames within the contracts when you sign them that certain things have to be done or be decided," said Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie. "And in this case with Chuck, a lot of work had to be done, had been done, and there was still some uncertainty. We were up against a deadline ... a decision had to be made."
Even with that, the Kings remained supportive, referring Hayes to the Cleveland Clinic and staying in touch with him.
Westphal said last Tuesday before the Kings' second pre-season game he would welcome Hayes back if he was ruled healthy.
Hayes was found to have "outpouching," or a bulge in the wall of his left ventricle, a condition that would not prevent him from playing basketball.
"When they said 'Chuck, you're just healthy and you have a big heart — you can play,' man I wanted to jump on the first plane back (to Sacramento)," Hayes said. "I just wanted to hurry up, get the results ... and bring them here, lay them out for everybody."
Hayes said he would have cried when he received the positive medical news if his mother hadn't been in Cleveland crying already.
"There were a lot of prayers," Westphal said. "And when prayers are answered, everybody needs to remember to give thanks. What Chuck and his family have been through puts basketball in perspective."
The Kings received the results and moved quickly to agree to a new contract with Hayes. With medical clearance, Hayes was coveted by several teams.
Hayes, however, wanted to be a King. The support from the moment he was told about the initial heart results meant a lot, he said.
Petrie drove Hayes to the hospital for one test, and other front office staff was there for other tests. Assistant general manager Shareef Abdur-Rahim picked up Hayes from the airport Friday night.
"It really gave significance and justified why I wanted to be here, why I wanted to be a King," Hayes said.