Chuck Hayes’ eyes, almost always expressive and alert, cannot be more wide open.
He turns 32 next month, and he understands where he is in the basketball universe. That he’s already beaten sportsbook-size odds almost goes without saying.
Exactly how did a heralded 6-foot-6 product of Modesto Christian High School and Kentucky, undrafted and basically unwanted at the highest level, turn a 10-day contract with the Houston Rockets into a 10-year NBA career?
Simply, by being Chuck Hayes.
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The man without a position or much of a perimeter shot rebounded. He defended. He beat opponents to the spot. He leaned hard on taller post players and even harder on his hoops instincts and intelligence. There was no give in his tree-trunk legs. He was a good teammate and never stopped learning.
When coaches preach about “maximizing your skills,” they’re talking Chuck Hayes’ language.
If someone sees value in a veteran leader and good defender at a bargain price, he’ll check in with Hayes.
So here he is in the spring of 2015, an NBA free agent. The four-year contract he signed with the Sacramento Kings, the one picked up by the Toronto Raptors via trade last year, has expired. The question must be asked: Is he staring down the gun barrel of retirement?
“I would like to play as long as I can. My mentor, Juwan Howard, with the Rockets told me, ‘Young fella, play until all 30 (teams) tell you no. Play until they kick you out,’” Hayes said this week. “But if my window is closing, I’m fine. I have no complaints.”
When he said that, he meant it. It will be difficult to walk away from all the glamour – much less the cash – but it’s clear he won’t over-stay his welcome. In fact, he’s planned for this moment. Hayes thinks he can make a contribution as a coach. An episode last summer at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va., a gathering of the nation’s best high school talent, affirmed it.
“I was surprised how receptive the kids were to me,” he said. “I enjoyed it so much.”
Further, Hayes has been stockpiling plays for years. He jotted them down and put them away for safekeeping. Anything he liked, especially the ideas that beat him, he recorded. He’s lifted from some of the NBA’s best coaches, among them Tom Thibodeau, Rick Carlisle, Randy Wittman, Brad Stevens, Rick Adelman and others. At each stop on his journey, Hayes learned.
Which brings us to the Chuck Hayes Summer Slam Basketball Camp on June 8-10 at Big Valley Christian High. It’s hardly his first foray into the camp culture. He’s donated his time to many clinics over the years.
But this one is different for one reason: Hayes’ name is stamped on it. If nothing else, the accountability factor is enhanced. He’s armed with hard-earned lessons to pass on to basketball-driven boys and girls spanning kindergarten through high school (visit chuckhayescamp.com or call (209) 324-6036 or (209) 450-9435).
We already know this: He’s not one of those headline guys who make an appearance and dart out the door 30 minutes later. Entries at his camp will receive the baseline-to-baseline Hayes treatment.
“I will be sweating through my shirt each day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. I will represent,” he said. “Everything I’ll teach there, I’ve learned in the NBA. That’s all I know. I will try to pass on things to kids to give them an advantage. I will teach them how to get from point A to point B.”
Last summer at a Slam-N-Jam practice, Hayes reminded youngsters it’s not a bad thing to gear down from 200 mph to, maybe, 65. Remember, he’s done this before.
“I had to ask them why they were in such a rush,” he said. “Just slow down and it will still be there. I told them to be quick but not to hurry.”
32 Hayes’ age on his birthday next month
Yes, no one has gone wrong echoing John Wooden.
Hayes will be assisted at Big Valley by Jason Thompson, one of his former teammates with the Kings. Les Bonsu, owner of Bonsu Elite Athletics, will provide speed, power and agility training.
The camp promises to be a special experience. But after that, Hayes faces his future. He’ll probably know in the first week of July whether the NBA says, “We still have a place for you,” or, “No thanks.”
“Free agency means I’m out of a job,” he said. “It’s kind of a nerve-racking thing for me. Where can I find my next check?”
If someone sees value in a veteran leader and good defender at a bargain price, he’ll check in with Hayes. If not, his dance card already is filled. Son Dorian is 8, and he’ll be joined soon by twin boys.
“For 10 years, I’ve had my dream job,” Hayes said, his eyes not wavering.
“I’ll be OK.”