(This feature article should be read with Ringo Starr’s song “It Don’t Come Easy” in the background.)
“I never thought I would be where I am now because I’ve had a hard and crazy life. But I am also blessed with a loving family and amazing parents and siblings.” That’s Michael Hayes, being straight and direct because … that’s who Michael Hayes is.
The 6-foot-4 Las Positas College (LPC) graduate recently signed with Chico State University after earning California Community Colleges Men’s Basketball Coaches Association Co-Most Valuable Player honors for averaging 21.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 rebounds. He departed LPC as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
Hayes’ life offers a number of critical story points but moving with his family from an economically depressed area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana to northern California when he was nine years old, is unquestionably a critical element. His father located a better job and perpetual worries about personal safety lessened dramatically.
A Pathway Through Sports
However, family life remained a struggle, one that eventually sent Hayes and his siblings into separate foster homes. This was a crucible that filled Hayes with the fire and fury that propels him to this day.
Despite the transient movement into and out of multiple foster homes, the 6-foot-4 Hayes found positivity in Pop Warner football and excelled at multiple positions due to his athletic prowess. “It was my first sport and we won a Super Bowl.”
What about basketball? Hayes tried hoops but “I was lost. I could only run up and down the court. If I shot a layup, it was a brick. An open jumper, another brick. I hated basketball because I sucked, so I stopped.” His decision to sideline himself lasted a year. “I came back–Manny Paz, my AAU coach, had a lot to do with that–and everything clicked. I learned so much and I’m still learning so much everyday. I love it.”
Paz and his family eventually played an even larger, transformational role. He and his wife took Hayes in when the youngster had no place to live and soon became his foster parents. As a result, Hayes now considers the couple his father and mother.
The Recruiting Process
The process of getting to Chico State was akin to a recruiting version of the film “Groundhog Day.” As Hayes explained, “my goal was always D1 and I received a lot of interest. But a lot of coaches had me in their back pockets.” Plus, “every phone call from any D1 coach included ‘I’m surprised you’re still available.’ Every single time. I would wait for them to say it.” Ultimately, “I just didn’t feel it.”
It was different for Hayes with the Wildcat coaching staff. “Coach Mark (Darnall) stayed with me with texts and letters throughout the whole process. He would send photos and even write paragraphs. Chico wanted me the most and my Mom and Dad stressed that to me.” So Chico State it became.
Speaking of heading to Wildcat country, “this is going to be a big platform for me,” Hayes said. “I want to get to the NBA,” mentioning that Scottie Pippin and others made the jump for D2 to The League. An abbreviated list of other talents accomplishing the same includes George Gervin, Earl Monroe, Manute Bol, Charles Oakley, Ben Wallace, Bobby Dandridge, Jerome Kersey and Rick Mahorn.
What He’ll Show
Asked what Wildcat fans will be witnessing this season in Acker Gym, Hayes offered, “My motor. It’s the passion I play with that sets me apart. I don’t want to lose, it’s a life and death situation for me. Even in a pickup game I go balls out. I can play everywhere. If a big guy is on me, I’ll pull him out to the perimeter and go around him. With a small guy, I’ll dominate him in the post.”
Regarding changes in his game since his time at West High in Tracy, Hayes said, “My shot has improved a whole lot. My handle too plus my strength and physicality.” However, the most important modification for Hayes “is not letting people get into my head. I always felt I had to say or do something back and I would get the tech. I just smile now when someone nudges or elbows me. One thing that helped with this is seeing my Dad and Mom in the stands with their fingers pointing to their head when they saw me being drawn into reacting. Now, I smile when someone nudges me.”
But his new method of operation hasn’t diminished competitiveness. “I am a leader and I show that by how hard I play. I’m still verbal with my teammates. If someone isn’t doing his best or not locking his guy up, I will step in and wake you up.”
Hayes retains two especially memorable basketball events from his time on the court. “In practice (at LPC), I got the ball on the corner with (teammate) Wesley Burse defending me. I drove, jumped from outside the paint and threw it down. Everything got quiet, really quiet. Finally, someone said, ‘I know we’re going to act like that didn’t happen…’ and everyone burst out laughing.” Ironically, Burse was giving Hayes a ride to and from school at the time, leaving the latter thinking “if I was going to lose my ride?” It was a very quiet drive home that day.
Also, “last year at Cerritos College in the summer games between the north versus the south schools, we played Fullerton and they were coming off a state championship. They were up by 20 something points and I’m saying to myself that ‘I don’t want to go out like this.’ Me and the guys woke up and got it down to 10 and then eventually two. With five seconds left, I got the ball on the right wing, used a screen and whoosh. It put us up by one and we all went crazy.” Fullerton got the ball back but a half court shot, in a hold your breath moment, just rimmed out. “We kept saying, ‘we just did that.'”
As important as his tenure at Chico State will be, it is Hayes’ next stop, not his final one. “I’ve got to get somewhere in order to have a good life for me and my family.” The memories of separation from his siblings still sting and he wants to reward the Paz family for taking him into their home and making it his.