BY DENNIS D. CRUZ
As the 2016 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament approaches, one of the 209’s own – Charles Edward “Chuck” Hayes Jr. – remembers living the ‘March Madness’ firsthand on multiple occasions. The standout high school, college and later NBA player still maintains ties to the Central Valley and the area he called ‘home’ growing up.
Moving from San Leandro to Modesto when he was in the sixth grade, Hayes admitted that there was some culture shock in the difference between the Bay Area and the Valley. Hayes later attended Modesto Christian High School and played both football and basketball for the Crusaders, but when it came down to choosing one to pursue, Hayes went with basketball and never looked back.
“I played both (football and basketball) up until my junior year. When my senior year came around, I had to make a decision between football and basketball. I played football (in previous seasons) and did well, but basketball was my first love so I turned my focus on the hardwood,” Hayes recalled.
During his time on the court, Hayes was named “Mr. Basketball” in California and a Parade All-American.
“I have so many memories of playing in Modesto. My favorite memory of playing in Modesto would have to be my first dunk, my freshman year, we were playing Denair and that stands out to me the most,” Hayes noted.
In 2001 Hayes made his way to Lexington, Kentucky to play for the Wildcats under head coach Tubby Smith.
“My first encounter with Coach Smith, I’ll never forget it, I was in the middle of layup drills in the layup line during a summer tournament, he was standing on the sidelines, and I hear his voice say ‘Hey Chuck’ – I turned around and I was surprised he knew my name. To hear Tubby Smith say my name was pretty cool.”
Even though he graduated from Kentucky nearly a decade ago, Hayes still keeps in touch with his former coach.
“The best advice he ever gave me was ‘Do things the right way’. There is a right and wrong. There is an up and down. There is a left and right. Just do things the right way, can get you far. It stuck with me playing basketball the right way, living life the right way, everything about that message he told me, do things the right way will get a person far, you can’t short cut anything in life.”
Much like his transition from San Leandro to Modesto, Hayes said that he was in for another big adjustment between Modesto and Lexington. However, Hayes said that the biggest difference was the physicality of the game and those who played it.
“As a freshman, these guys looked like giants. The SEC (South East Conference) was loaded with big men. From the Hayes brothers of Georgia, Mario Austin from Mississippi State and even some guys down in Louisiana, I mean, these guys were strong. It was the first time that I was intimidated and thought to myself, ‘Oh man I have my work cut out for me.’ My freshman year we played against University of Maryland in the Sweet 16 and I thought Chris Wilcox was the biggest man I have ever seen. There was only two years that separated us, as he was a junior and I was a freshman, but he was six-foot-ten, had long arms, had girth and height to him. I mean he was a man.”
Hayes, who stands at six foot six, played power forward and center.
Hayes and the Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament four times during his time at the school, including being the top seed twice. Although they did not win the tournament, Hayes said he is grateful and fortunate to have those memories.
“I thought the NCAA Tournament was one of the most fun things I’ve ever been a part of. To see the fan base, the student body, the alumni and everyone come together for the support of the team in what is an all or nothing game, where every possession counts, you really cannot explain it. There is nothing like it. The energy of the arena and everyone in it cannot be matched.”
In 2005 Hayes went undrafted on draft night for National Basketball Association (NBA). However, Hayes received a phone call from the Houston Rockets later that night that would change his future on the court.
“I did not know what was going to happen after the final selection was made and my name was not called. About twenty minutes later the phone rang; it was the Houston Rockets. They asked if I wanted to play in their development league. I said ‘Sure, not like I have anything better to do!’ so for me that’s where it all started. I played in the NBA D-League for Albuquerque Thunderbirds.”
In January 2006, the Rockets called Hayes up for his first NBA action. They signed him to a 10-day contract and his first game was against the Chicago Bulls.
“My first game that I played in was surreal. I was playing at the United Center in Chicago where Michael Jordan’s jersey number was retired and hanging above me in the rafters. I had a double-double that night and we won. I thought I was going to be Michael Jordan and be destined for greatness. I embraced that night and it still holds a special memory in my mind, truly one of my best memories in my career,” he said.
Hayes points to three other nights as highlights in his career, including April 21, 2007.
“My first playoff game of my career and my son was born. I went from the hospital, to the arena, back to the hospital that night. My next favorite moment of my career would be game six of the 2009 playoffs against Portland. I took the game-winning charge, Brandon Roy dribbled around a teammate of mine, and I slid into the paint and Roy was called for a charge, and we won the game and we advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
“Finally, my last favorite moment, and my son still doesn’t believe me when I tell him this story, I got a triple double against the Warriors in March of 2011. It was my sixth year in the league and throughout my career I was thought of as a role player, averaging three points a night or so, I get a triple double and I am very proud to say that happened. That was not supposed to happen, but it did and I will never forget that.”
Hayes is not currently on an NBA roster, but his love of the game and the Central Valley has not gone away. Hayes holds an annual basketball camp at Big Valley High School in Modesto. He also holds a summer camp for AAU, the Chuck Hayes 17 and under camp.
“This is our second year of the camp, and I always wanted to help out in the community and give back,” he said.