UK Basketball: Hayes enjoys return to Rupp Arena for charity game
Former UK star Chuck Hayes (44) goes up past Villain Zach Randolph (50) Monday. Hayes said playing in Rupp Arena again brought back a lot of great memories for him. (Clay Jackson)
“There’s still no better place to play basketball than here,” said Hayes, who has played for the Houston Rockets and is now an unrestricted free agent.
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 on March 23.
Here is what Hayes, who had four points, 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals in the Big Blue All-Stars’ 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, 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.”