In his two short seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers, Nigel Hayes has managed to make a name for himself nationwide. Documenting the Badgers; run in the tournament last season with his Hayes for Days series, Hayes charmed his way to fame with his captivating sense of humor as his work on the court that assisted Wisconsin to a Final Four appearance.
Now, in his sophomore season, Hayes has grown as a player while managing to keep the playful personality that made Badger fans love him.
Hayes’ evolution on the court has made him one of the most improved players in college basketball. While Frank Kaminsky is the poster boy for Wisconsin basketball and Sam Dekker is noted as a future NBA candidate, Hayes has become the X-factor for this Badger squad.
Hayes’ development is most evident in his 3-point shooting. He was 0-for-0 during his freshman season, but this season he has a percentage of 40.5 (32-of-79). His minutes have nearly doubled this season, and his production has improved significantly. He averages 6.5 rebounds (2.8 last season) and 12.5 points (7.7 last season) per game.Mar 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) celebrates with forward Frank Kaminsky (44) during overtime in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament against the Michigan State Spartans at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Speaking with the Chicago Tribune over the weekend, Hayes discussed his desire to refine his skills.
“I was just trying to make sure I become a better, more well-rounded player by working on ball-handling, shooting, the footwork and all those things,” said Hayes, a Toledo, Ohio, native. “If I’m better, it also makes our team better.”
His dedication to enhance his game has led Hayes to try unconventional methods. Wearing goggles that prevent him from seeing the ball when he dribbles, and putting a cylinder on the hoop to making shooting more difficult, Hayes has devoted his energy to becoming an unstoppable force on the court. Surrendering his time to basketball, Hayes heads to the gym at 5:15 to shoot around.
The efforts of the Badgers forward have not gone unnoticed. Coach Bo Ryan praised his forward, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“If he has a shortcoming, it won’t be a shortcoming for very long,” Ryan said. “You might say, well, he’s not this, he’s not that. It’s really hard to say that there isn’t anything that Nigel can’t do eventually.”
Wisconsin had a down game against the Oregon Ducks on Sunday night. Frank Kaminsky suffered an offensive drought, and the team allowed the Ducks to stay in the game, permitting them to erase an 11-point first-half lead and tie the Badgers in the second-half. Fortunately, Hayes was there to rescue Wisconsin from its offensive dry spell as he delivered 14 points.
Keeping things fresh and fun, Hayes made headlines when he took an interest in the tournament stenographer. When asked about his 3-point shooting, Hayes began his answer with cattywampus, onomatopoeia and antidisestablishmentarianism, providing a challenge for the stenographer.
The story went viral, and the nation responded. Tweets, comments, and kudos came in from all over the country, praising the Badger for his quirky sense of humor. Even fans from Big 10 rivals found a soft spot in their hearts for the Wisconsin forward.
For Nigel Hayes, the sophomore slump is a fabricated myth. The Wisconsin forward has become a formidable force for this Badger team, and he is the X-factor in this tournament. His boundless energy and love for the game have made him a fan favorite, both within the Badger fan-base and beyond.
Teams should be careful when assessing Nigel Hayes. He may outwardly project a goofball persona, but this sophomore is cool, coordinated, and ready to dissect his opponents.