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.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still no better place to play basketball than here,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†career, the NBA and more.
Question: How does it feel to be back in Rupp Arena playing?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“To be honest, it feels weird. It brings back every memory IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†have had of my home games. I think about the fans, the electricity IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†got, the love IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†got. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great to be back.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Have you surprised yourself any with your NBA success, or are you such an overachiever by nature that you expected this?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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 IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†have been there for six years going on seven, IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am enjoying it. It is great.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Did anything here at UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†drive you to help you succeed or is more about inner drive at the next level?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Are you still disappointed you didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get to be part of a national championship team with teammates Keith Bogans, Cliff Hawkins, Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels and Kelenna Azubuike?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yes. We had great teams. I still canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†never went to a Final Four. Went to the Elite Eight twice, but we should have won a title. We just couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Do you think any Kentucky team has played together better than your teams did?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: How much does it help current UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†players to have guys like yourself and these other former stars coming back to Lexington regularly now?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: How is your family doing?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Is your father still your biggest fan?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I give him my insights when IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†can. If he asks, I will tell him. If heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doing a little something wrong, I will help him. I will correct him and show him how to do it right. If heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doing it right, I will encourage him.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: How frustrating is the current lockout for you?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is unfortunate, but it is part of our business at this level. There is going to be professional basketball again. We just donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t when.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Has it been fun to re-connect with UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†fans who supported you for four years?
Hayes: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is great. I love the fans here. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†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 IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†have been here. Still, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nothing that will ever be better than all my years here.Ã¢â‚¬Â