In just ten minutes, Bradley Hayes saved his college career.
During last year’s Round of 32 NCAA tournament game against Eastern Washington, Georgetown Head coach John Thompson III was forced to put the seldom-used seven-footer into the game, after big men Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins each picked up two quick fouls. The presence of Hayes, a perennial benchwarmer, didn’t instill much confidence in Hoya fans; heading into the tournament, the junior had committed more fouls in his career than he had scored points. As he shuffled onto the court, the reaction of the game’s announcers mirrored that of the Georgetown faithful: this wasn’t going to end well.
Hayes, however, had other plans. Two offensive rebounds produced two easy scores for the 275-pound center, a surprising spurt of production that had color commentator Reggie Miller at a loss for words. Hayes added four more points and four more rebounds to close out the first half, sparking a 28-12 run for the Hoyas that would prove to be the difference in the game. Hayes wouldn’t see the court in the second half, but his message to Hoya fans was clear: I’m not done yet.
“That was just a small image of what I can do,” Hayes said. “I can do a lot better and a lot more. So now I just try and go out in the season and show it.”
Hayes’ coaches and teammates also viewed the Eastern Washington game as a major turning point in the center’s development.
“Being quite honest, he played well in the NCAA Tournament,” Thompson said. “And he hasn’t stopped, so it’s kind of like an ‘a-ha” moment.”
“He’s had a great summer, and in practice he’s been killing,” said sophomore forward Isaac Copeland. “Scoring in the paint, clearing the rim, doing what we need out of a seven-foot big man right now.
Hayes’ rapid improvement will certainly be put to test this season, as the senior will be tasked with anchoring a Georgetown frontcourt that has very little depth. With Smith and Hopkins lost to graduation and Louisville transfer Akoy Agau out for the season with a torn ACL, only Hayes, freshman Jessie Govan, and unproven sophomore Trey Mourning, are available to play down low. As a result, Hayes committed himself this offseason to improving his defense and his rebounding, two skills that will have to be consistently on display for the Hoyas to be able to compete in the hard-nosed Big East Conference.
“They need me as a presence down low and they need me on the boards heavy,” Hayes said. “I’m ready to step up for that role.”
Senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is also confident that his teammate and fellow team captain is up for the challenge.
“Our expectations for Bradley are very high,” Smith-Rivera said. “Seeing his growth over the summer, it was tremendous. I’m excited to be playing with him finally, consistently, as a peer and brother of mine…He talks about people not recognizing him or knowing what he could bring to the table. Well I told him just wait, they’ll see.”
Cautious optimism aside, however, Hayes remains a wholly unproven commodity. The senior has never played more than 13 minutes in a single game and has showcased a bad habit for fouling, averaging .77 fouls per game during his career despite only playing for an average of 4.1 minutes per game. The importance of just staying on the court for long stretches of time is something Hayes has focused on.
Hayes’ gradual development as a post player is a process that should look familiar to Georgetown fans. Before Hayes, former Hoyas Roy Hibbert and Henry Sims also struggled to excel in their early years, only to blossom into legitimate NBA prospects at the back end of their time on the Hilltop. John Thompson III recognizes Hayes’ place in this lineage, but emphasized that the Jacksonville, Florida, native remains unique, especially compared to Sims.
“I don’t mean to talk negatively about Henry [Sims] in the next statement, but I think Bradley cared the whole time,” Thompson said. “[I] didn’t give him an opportunity…whereas Henry had the opportunities, but it was just senior year and he was like ‘Uh-oh, I’m almost out of the tunnel.’ He changed who he was senior year. I don’t think Bradley has changed as a person, I just think he’s a more confident person.”
Hayes, meanwhile, has communicated with his predecessors and understands the opportunity in front of him.
“I’ve actually talked to Roy Hibbert a couple of times and I’ve talked to Henry a couple of times too,” Hayes said. “They know it’s my one full year, and they said it’s a lot of pressure…It depends on how much I want it.”
The experience of sitting on the bench for three years has humbled Hayes to the point where he understands what’s necessary to be a leader. Hayes, along with Smith-Rivera, is one of the team’s captains.
“I mean, I came in my freshman year thinking I was going to make a large impact,” Hayes said. “Unfortunately, I had to sit back and learn from the older guys, but I feel like I learned a lot…I feel like I can come in and be a real leader.”
Individual potential aside, however, Hayes remains focused on Georgetown’s prospects as a team this year, viewing his final season as a great opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the Georgetown program.
“I like to leave whatever I come to better than it was when I got here,” Hayes said. “If that’s putting a banner up on the wall or that’s getting a ring on my finger, that’s the goal…in the end, I just want to go as far as we can go.”