Hayes no longer a surprise


August 08, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Chuck Hayes probably was considered a longshot to even make the Pan-American Games team when he was invited to tryouts this summer.

If anyone from the University of Kentucky made the team, it figured to be versatile guard Gerald Fitch. Fitch because he could score inside or outside, could play either guard position and played the tough defense that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, the Pan-Am coach, loved.

Hayes? He was an undersized, overachieving forward that Kentucky fans loved because of his work ethic. He's a throwback to the days when players enjoyed the game merely for the competition and thought diving on the floor for loose balls, listening to the coach and valuing winning above all else was normal.

But Hayes not only made the Pan-Am team, he was one of the team's star players. Never mind that the United States did not win a medal in the competition that ended earlier this week. That was not Hayes' fault.


He averaged 29.2 minutes and 11.2 points per game. He was 21-for-37 from the field in five games, a nifty 57 percent mark. He got to the foul line 25 times and even though he made just 14, think how happy UK coach Tubby Smith would be next year if Hayes could average five free throws per game.

Hayes pulled off an average of 7.6 rebounds per game, or about one for every four minutes he played. Thirteen of those rebounds came on the offensive end, where he again used his strength and instincts to take ball away from bigger opponents. He also had eight assists, seven steals and four blocked shots.

First in rebounding, second in scoring, assists, blocked shots

Hayes, one of the few players invited to the tryouts that did not earn all-conference honors last season, was first on the team in rebounding, free throws made and steals. He was second in scoring, field goals made, assists and blocked shots.

However, the numbers don't tell nearly all the story about Hayes' play. He took it as a privilege to just be on the team. He wasn't worried about giving up part of his summer to play basketball. He wasn't worried about how the officiating would be. He wasn't worried about whether he would get enough shots.

No, he just wanted to play basketball for his country.

"It was an honor playing for my country, and I would do it again in a heartbeat," Hayes told USA Basketball after his team lost to Puerto Rico in the bronze medal game. "The three letters U-S-A are bigger than me or anyone in our locker room."

Bigger than me or anyone in our locker room? When is the last time you heard a professional athlete make a comment like that?

Hayes was instrumental in UK's sensational season last year that got the Wildcats within one game of making the Final Four. However, he's bringing a warning - or words of inspiration - back to his teammates.

"I will take this experience back with me to Kentucky and tell my teammates they better get serious about their game. The rest of the world is out there putting in work," Hayes said.

True, but no one works any harder than Hayes, and his Pan-Am play certainly shows the value of putting in that work.

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