Hayes and Daniels are double trouble for UK opponents

March 18, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

During their first year together at the University of Kentucky, Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes often got to spend quality time together during games.

"We would both be sitting on the bench and just talking about different things," Hayes said. "Some of our conversations were kind of funny. Some were serious. But we were always talking."

That was during the 2001-2002 season with "Team Turmoil" when Daniels was a sophomore and Hayes a freshman.

The two seemed to have different personalities. Daniels was a lightly-regarded, finesse player from Cincinnati. Hayes was a highly-touted power forward from California. Yet they formed a special bond on a team that had numerous factions that season.

"We used to talk about anything and everything," Daniels said. "We knew we weren't going to play much. We concentrated on the game, but we also had fun."


Now it is Kentucky opponents who have to concentrate on Daniels and Hayes. They have become double trouble in the last two years, and they will again play key roles in the eighth-ranked Wildcats' chances to win a national title when UK opens NCAA Tournament play Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against Lehigh.

Daniels averages 14.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Hayes adds 10.8 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds.

"They are just very intelligent players," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "They have grown up in the game. Chuck Hayes is as strong a frontcourt player as there is in America, and they are both very versatile.

"They make Kentucky hard to deal with because of the way they play. They can throw it inside and cut off those guys, and they are intelligent enough that they dump the ball off or make the right move.

"Kentucky is as good as anyone in the country doing that because of how Hayes and Daniels play. When you have versatile big guys, especially when they pass it like those two do, it really makes a team hard to deal with, especially if you are seeing them for the first time."

The doubters even included Hawkins

Many wondered how the two would fare this year playing the power forward and center positions because they are not as big as most opponents. The doubters even included Kentucky point guard Cliff Hawkins.

"I knew they were the guys who would have to be our presence inside," Hawkins said. "But I honestly didn't know how well we could rebound the ball because of the size they would give up some games.

"They have rebounded far better than even I thought they could. They have done a great job. I thought our guards would have to rebound a lot more, but at times I can just stand and watch them. They have been that good."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith won't certainly disagree.

"Chuck Hayes never gets frustrated. He's a team player and as long as we win, he's happy," Smith said. "He's just a warrior inside. He could play outside more, but he knows for us to win, he's got to be an inside presence and he has been."

"Erik is crafty. He just knows how to get behind people and score. He's a smart, smart player. He's our most intelligent player from a basketball standpoint. He's not always as physical as I want him to be, but the results are always good. Erik comes ready to play every game. He has the ability and skills to play on the perimeter, but he doesn't mind going inside."

Daniels says the way they have played the last two years when Kentucky has compiled a 58-8 record has been no surprise to him and Hayes.

"We always knew we had the potential to dominate," Daniels said. "Even that first year when we were basically on the bench together most of the time, we were confident in our ability. We just had to wait for our opportunities. We waited and the last two years it has paid off for both of us."

Bill Keightley has been UK's equipment manager under coaches Adolph Rupp, Joe Hall, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino and Smith. He's seen players of all sizes and abilities play for the Cats, but even Keightley sometimes has been amazed by Daniels' unorthodox style and the success he has.

"I don't know if I've ever been around a player quite like him," Keightley said. "He doesn't have a jump shot. He just goes around you and shoots.

"If you blow the whistle, he's happy and ready to play. He's the one we can't replace next year. He is some kind of talent. He's a hard guy to defend because you don't know where he's coming from, and he's got such a quick release that if he catches the ball inside, he's probably going to score or get fouled no matter how big the guy is guarding him."

"He does take some funky looking shots," Hayes said. "But he doesn't take himself seriously. He just comes out, gets a ball, jumps in the air and throws it up there. It's not a surprise when it goes in, either.

"I think we all wonder sometimes what he is doing and where he gets that shot. Then it makes it even more difficult because he's left-handed. It's kind of weird what he does at times, but I am just happy his shots go in all the time like they do."

Daniels had to alter his playing style

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