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By LARRY VAUGHT

He had not been on the Rupp Arena court as a player since the end of the 2005-2006 season, but he said Monday night he felt like he had never left in some ways.

“There’s still no better place to play basketball than here,” said Hayes, who now plays for the Houston Rockets.

Hayes played in the exhibition game between the Big Blue All-Stars and the Villains and said he had as much fun as anyone that participated.

He played in 134 games at Kentucky averaging 9.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 assists per game while establishing himself as one of the nation’s most versatile players. His final three seasons, the Wildcats had an overall record of 87-15 and were ranked first, second and seventh in the final Associated Press poll.

He finished his career ranked seventh all in rebounds (910), eighth in steals (169), ninth in blocked shots (128) and 35th in points (1,211) and made 110 consecutive starts with 110.

Hayes went undrafted but made the Houston Rockets as a free agent. He’s now played in 424 games with 233 starts and has averaged 4.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game while establishing himself as a defensive stopper despite having to play against taller, bigger players. Hayes has his first NBA triple-double with 13 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists against Golden State March 23.

Here is what Hayes, who had four points, 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals in the 152-149 overtime loss to the Villains, had to say about his UK career, the NBA and more.

Question: How does it feel to be back in Rupp Arena playing?
Hayes: “To be honest, it feels weird. It brings back every memory I have had of my home games. I think about the fans, the electricity I got, the love I got. It’s great to be back.”

Question: How proud are you to come back, too, as a successful, proven NBA player when many doubted if you could even make a NBA roster when you left Kentucky?
Hayes: “A lot of people did doubt me and probably thought my basketball career was going to end in college, but I am grateful and lucky enough to extend my career to the highest level of basketball, which is the NBA. I am happy, grateful and want to extend it as long as I can.”

Question: Have you surprised yourself any with your NBA success, or are you such an overachiever by nature that you expected this?
Hayes: “I have always believed and had confidence in myself, but the NBA was so far fetched. I knew it was a goal of mine, but I was okay if it did not happen because there is such a small number that gets there. Now that I have been there for six years going on seven, I am enjoying it. It is great.”

Question: Did anything here at UK drive you to help you succeed or is more about inner drive at the next level?
Hayes: “It just came from my inner self. From my drive to work better, do better. Nothing really happened here except maybe the responsibility we had to have like going to class regularly and doing individual workouts, lifting in the mornings. It gave us a sense of being responsible to a program.”

Question: Are you still disappointed you didn’t get to be part of a national championship team with teammates Keith Bogans, Cliff Hawkins, Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels and Kelenna Azubuike?
Hayes: “Yes. We had great teams. I still can’t believe I never went to a Final Four. Went to the Elite Eight twice, but we should have won a title. We just couldn’t get to the Final Four. We had some studs on our team. We had some guys on our team that could play hard, play competitive.”

Question: Do you think any Kentucky team has played together better than your teams did?
Hayes: “I would like to think as a team we were a great team team and no one has done that better. Talent-wise, the last three years they have had, the talent here is unbelievable. I think it is great what John Calipari is doing for the program. He is bringing them back to where they belong. He is bringing in players, wins. He is bringing that vibe back to Lexington.”

Question: How much does it help current UK players to have guys like yourself and these other former stars coming back to Lexington regularly now?
Hayes: “I think it is great that myself, Keith (Bogans), Tayshaun (Prince) all come back and just hang out. These other guys here are great, too, and we create a relationship with the players. They will eventually be in the NBA, too, and as you know once you get in the NBA, this Kentucky thing is a fraternity.”

Question: How is your family doing?
Hayes: “The family is great. Mom and Dad are still in Modesto (Calif.). My sister is still in Modesto. My brother is in Modesto. I have another little brother who is a senior at Texas Southern University in Houston.”

Question: Is your father still your biggest fan?
Hayes: “Still my biggest fan and my biggest critic. That has not changed at all. He comes out quite often when we have three- or four-game homestand. He likes to come down.”

Question: Have you been able to provide help for teammate Patrick Patterson, another former UK standout who was beloved by fans much like you?
Hayes: “I give him my insights when I can. If he asks, I will tell him. If he’s doing a little something wrong, I will help him. I will correct him and show him how to do it right. If he’s doing it right, I will encourage him.”

Question: How frustrating is the current lockout for you?
Hayes: “It is unfortunate, but it is part of our business at this level. There is going to be professional basketball again. We just don’t when.”

Question: Has it been fun to re-connect with UK fans who supported you for four years?
Hayes: “It is great. I love the fans here. I didn’t realize they would still remember me. I have been gone and with the new crop of talent that has been here, my days are almost the glory days. But not quite. I am right on the cusp from the glory days to the present. I am an old-timer now. I am 28, but it has just been a long time since I have been here. Still, there’s nothing that will ever be better than all my years here.”

8 Responses to Chuck Hayes: “It’s great to be back” playing in Rupp Arena

  • PHILLIP BARKER says:

    I always felt we had a chance to win when the Chuck Wagon was on the floor at Rupp…one of my all time favorites! No Chuck, no way you will ever be forgotten!

  • Beth says:

    We would have gotten to the final four if Rondo wouldnt have been selfish near the end of the MSU game. Goin inside to Hayes worked all game and Rondo tried to do it all himself. Those 03 and 05 seasons still kill me.

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    I agree with Phillip. No way will Chuck ever be forgotten at UK. After all these years, he’s still one of my all-time favorite players. I don’t think I’ll ever forget him crying his eyes out at Senior Night and sitting on the bench long after the other players had left the floor after the MSU Elite Eight game.

    • larryvaught says:

      Hayes certainly had a memorable career and truly loved being back here.
      Not sure about Patterson other than he just has not been around. Probably other commitments

  • Winfeld says:

    How come PPat does not play in these all star games.

  • TrueBlueJohn says:

    I had the chance to see the game when the Kentucky Pros played the University of Pikeville (Man. it is strange to say that). No one on the floor was having more fun than Chuck Hayes, and when someone bumped into him, it was they who bounced off, not Chuck. Also, It impressed me the amount of respect that the other pros had for him. I really enjoyed seeing these guys play even if it was just an exhibition.

    In addition to the UK pros, Shelvin Mack and Kenneth Faried played in the game, and those are two mid-major players who could have played for any team in the country.

  • Isn’t Patterson recovering from recent surgery on his ankle? I think if it was possible Patrick would be here playing, He loves Kentucky and he loves the fans.

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