June 22, 2011
This is a continuation in a series of profiles on former Miami University men’s basketball players who are currently or have recently played professional basketball. Today’s feature is on Kenny Hayes, the RedHawks’ most-recent player in the professional ranks and a two-time All-MAC selection.
At the end of the interview after turning the recorder off, in a matter-of-fact tone Kenny Hayes made one of the most-telling remarks of the conversation that cut to the core of his motivation.
“It’s not about making money right now. It’s about chasing a dream, and I want to go all out.”
For the past year, Hayes has played in the National Basketball Association Developmental League with the Maine Red Claws. Hayes was drafted in the second round last summer as the 23rd overall pick.
“I was excited when I was drafted. I didn’t think I would get drafted that high,” said Hayes. “The year was great. I had my ups and downs. I started out a little slow. I just had to get used to a different style of play. Guys are faster and bigger. Everybody there is trying to get to the NBA, so I had to try to catch up. Towards the end I caught up, and I got in the starting lineup.”
In his first season, Hayes played in 43 of the team’s 48 games, making four starts. He averaged 7.2 ppg over an average of 19.1 minutes per game and had the team’s second-best free-throw percentage for a player who saw significant time throughout the season at 81.9 percent.
To facilitate the progression, Hayes said he hit the weight room hard throughout the season, got extra individual workouts in with the Red Claw coaching staff and was the first guy in and out of the gym every day. Hayes also drew a lot of support from his teammates.
“I had a couple of former NBA guys on my team who really helped me,” said Hayes. “Mario West played with the Atlanta Hawks for about three seasons and last year he got called up to the New Jersey Nets. Throughout the entire year, I would go to the gym early with him and we’d be the last ones to leave the gym. Magnum Rolle—we (Miami) played against him when he was at Louisiana Tech. He was drafted by the Pacers out of school and got a call-up to the Atlanta Hawks at the end of the year.”
“We were the youngest team in the D League,” continued Hayes. “Some of my good friends who I hung around with were DeShawn Sims, Jamar Smith and Tiny Gallon. We were all young rookies, and it was a learning process for us. We all stuck together and helped each other out.”
Over his first season in the D League, Hayes could see the growth in his game.
“It was a learning process for me all year. I could see when I started getting better and confident,” he explained. “At first, I think they were iffy with me, because at that level they don’t have time to wait. They needed me to produce now. I got the hint and they worked with me, and I got better and better every day in practice. My coach is Austin Ainge, the son of Danny Ainge who is (President for Operations) for the Boston Celtics. He had a lot of good of things that he helped me with. Stuff to work on coming off the pick and roll.”
“My first year, I had some big games in the 20s. I went on one stretch where I could feel myself getting better and blossoming when I went on a five-game streak where I was probably averaging about 15 points and five assists a game,” continued Hayes. “Being able to play against guys who have been in the NBA every day in practice, guys like Avery Bradley, who was drafted in the first round by the Celtics who came down with us for a few games, was valuable. I talk to him a lot and he helps me, telling me things to focus on.”
Another highlight for Hayes in his first season in the D League was a dunk against the Springfield Armor in early March that was rated the top dunk of the D League last season. (Click HERE to see the video highlight … Hayes’ dunk is at about the 40-second mark of the highlight clip. He is wearing No. 12)
After the season this year, Hayes had another wrist surgery at the advisement of the Red Claw medical staff. (In December 2008, Hayes suffered a season-ending wrist injury. Because he had only played in eight games for the RedHawks that season, he was able to obtain a medical redshirt and return to the floor for Miami for the 2009-10 campaign.) He also received some words of encouragement from the President and General Manager of the Red Claws, Jon Jennings.
“After the season, Jon Jennings talked to me just telling me that I had potential to play in the NBA,” said Hayes. “The biggest thing is me just getting stronger. He said to improve in other areas and continue to get better, but the main thing to focus on is to continue to get stronger. He feels that if I continue to get stronger, the sky’s the limit for me.”
And the Red Claws seem to believe in the potential of their investment.
“Right now I’m working out at a place called Attack in Chicago,” said Hayes. “It’s run by a guy named Tim Grover. He’s the same guy who was the personal trainer for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. I’ve been up there lifting and rehabbing my wrist. Maine sent me there, and I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to work with guys who train the best players in the world.”
In addition to sending him to Attack in Chicago for the summer, the Maine Red Claws are providing Hayes the opportunity to pursue a master's degree through an on-line program. Hayes is currently working towards his MBA.
Although Hayes’ hometown is Dayton, Ohio, he also continues to call Oxford home. After his time at Attack, which he says will go through the end of August, Hayes plans on being based out of Oxford until the D League training camps in November. During the season last year, he was able to come back to the area once during the All-Star break, staying in Oxford with his best friends and former teammates Nick Winbush and Sean Mock, and catching the Miami vs. Kent State basketball game at Millett Hall.
Despite the wrist surgery that has prevented him from shooting and getting in the gym to play for the last couple of months, Hayes’ work ethic has not wavered. He has maintained a vigilant focus on his dream.
“I’m going to go back to the D-League,” said Hayes. “I feel like I have a shot to get to the next level. Next year I feel like my role will be different. This year I was more of a role player (as I was working through the) learning process. Next year I feel like the hard work I put in throughout the summer will determine me having a bigger role. The main thing for me is just that I have to get better this summer. There are other guys working, so I feel like I have to still somehow outwork them even though I can’t play right now.”