Bradley Hayes, like Mikael Hopkins and Henry Sims before him, is a testament to the way big men develop over the course of four years at Georgetown. A true 7-foot center out of Jacksonville, Florida, he had remained largely out of the spotlight and regular rotation as an underclassman. According to John Thompson III, Hayes was engaged, hard-working and methodical.
Praise like that is good to hear, but the results had thus far been invisible to fans. That all changed in his Senior season as he took on a trifecta of new roles:
Starter. Leader. Team captain.
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Early in his time on the Hilltop, Hayes showed flashes off offensive proficiency, but during limited minutes he would quickly draw the ire of fans after bobbling a pass or failing to read the offensive set. He only attempted ten shots total over the course of his Freshman and Sophomore seasons. As this feed to Markel Starks showed, he had the vision of the court - it was a matter of starting to put the pieces together.
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An unfortunate side effect of his huge growth spurt early in high school, a gruesome leg injury hampered Hayes development on the court. His body had to learn to match his basketball IQ. Fans would yell from the stands, "Just be tall, Bradley!" Behind the scenes, he was working hard to earn his spot on the court. In an interview with Sports Illustrated last fall (which you should read), he described the his reasons for being patient and why he stayed so committed to this program:
Hayes heard from plenty of friends in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., who encouraged him to think about leaving Georgetown. He ignored them. In Hayes’s mind, he had committed to being a Hoya. "Not for a minute did I think of transferring. Not for a minute did I think I was going to leave," he says. "Loyalty plays a major part in my life."
In a crucial late game appearance at Marquette late in his sophomore season, Nate Lubick and Moses Ayegba had already fouled out; Hopkins had four fouls of his own. Hayes gamely matched up against Davante Gardner and six-year player Chris Otule, pulling down a couple of rebounds and registering the very first block of his college career. That, along with a perfect 2/2 from the stripe, helped keep Georgetown within striking distance on the road.
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Another quiet year went by, with Hayes playing off the bench behind Hopkins and occasionally-eligible Joshua Smith. That is, until the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament. With the aforementioned frontcourt players on the bench with foul trouble, the Junior joined the chorus of unsung heroes that chimed in for the Hoyas that night. Would any of the moves seen below qualify as revolutionary basketball play? Of course not.
It was the kind of stalwart contribution you expect from a veteran player, only it was coming from someone who averaged 3 minutes per game - and had only seen action in half of the season's contests. A stat line of 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and ZERO fouls in 10 minutes was a tectonic shift in production. It helped propel Georgetown past Eastern Washington into the Round of 32.
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Hayes is a team player. He waited his turn. He learned the game. Most importantly, he celebrated the accomplishments of the young men who worked beside him every day. In this particular instance, he did it very oddly. I'm not going to pretend to understand; I'm also not going to criticize. Because he's our weirdo, dammit.
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Being truly comfortable with a group of friends means you can depend on them. It also means you are in a unique position to make fun of them. After four years together, Hayes had zero hesitation about which teammate was going to be the target of his deadpan skewering in the 2K Classic preview interviews, wherein we learned that D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is the worst...at everything...except maybe basketball.
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With a young team (and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera once again playing out of position at point guard) what the Hoyas were looking for heading into the 2015-2016 season was a reliable interior presence. There were many questions regarding Bradley Hayes' new role on the team. Why had he sat on the bench for three years? And the most important one: Was the rising senior's tournament performance a fluke, or could Hayes replicate it over the course of exponentially more playing time?
In short, yes. Despite having played fewer minutes in his career than DSR did in the average game, Bradley became a major factor for Georgetown at both ends of the court. He hit occasional jumpers from the elbow and slipped a dunk past Maryland's Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble, disrupting the sparkly NBA dreams of that duo for at least a fraction of a second.
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Hayes became a dependable contributor. Less than a half dozen games into the year, he had matched the cumulative totals for minutes played and points scored during his first three seasons. He was averaging 20 minutes a game and nearly a double-double in non-conference play. Mistakes which had been a liability earlier in his career - shuffling of the feet on screens, failure to clamp down on rebounds - became more and more infrequent. For a player less experience than most of the Sophomore class, his progress was astonishing.
A stellar 21 point/8 rebound performance in the Hoyas' win over the hated Orange on December 5th solidified his status as one of the most improved players in the country. Teams focused the game plans around containing him. He got double-teamed in the paint. His style was occasionally unorthodox, but the big man was consistently getting it done.
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At the beginning of the season, he told John Thompson III that he had been studying the game...by watching youtube videos of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's hook shot. If you're going to dream, why not dream big? And sometimes, with enough hard work, those dreams start to become a reality. A right-handed hooker became his go-to move, eliciting cries of "Rutherford!" from Georgetown fans who simply cannot avoid corny political references.
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We'll never really know what might have been. Just before Valentine's Day, Hoya hearts broke at the news that the senior had broken his hand during practice and would be sidelined indefinitely. The team misses his defensive contributions greatly. A testament to how important he was within this unit, they have not won a game since. Three weeks into his recovery, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Hayes could return to the court as Georgetown travels to New York City for the Big East Tournament this week. If he can dream, so can we, right?
This season he emerged from the shadows and played more than 500 minutes, pulling down 156 rebounds and scoring 213 points. To succeed in the Big East, one needs not only skill, but the confidence and certainty to back it up.
He got it. Finally.