Persistence paying off for Hayes in postseasonMarch 8, 2018
By JONATHAN SAXON
HUNTINGBURG — Sleepers. Late bloomers.
These are a few of the terms we use when talking about people who start off slow, but, given some time, find a way to tap in and turn potential talent into realized payoffs.
That could be a way to look at Jaden Hayes. Raider coaches had big expectations for the six-foot-six forward at the beginning of the season, and for the most part he has justified a lot of their confidence. But there were times when he just didn’t seem all there on the court.
Hayes would have games where he got loose along the baseline, scored in double figures and became that dominant inside threat for the Raiders’ offense. Then there would be games where, for whatever reason, he didn’t seem as engaged or aggressive on either end of the court and almost became a non-factor.
However, Hayes has been playing his best game as the stakes have risen for the Raiders. Hayes went on a bit of a tear over the last three games of the regular season for Southridge, averaging a hair under 20 points going into the postseason.
Then in the Raiders’ first sectional game against the Sullivan Golden Arrows, Hayes delivered a 13-point effort in the team’s 47-32 win.
But Hayes’s biggest statement came in the crazy, double overtime 69-65 win in the sectional championship against the Vincennes Lincoln Alices at Memorial Gym Saturday.
The junior big man posted a career-high 24 points in the most important game (at that point) of the team’s season, helping win Southridge’s first sectional title since 2007 and their first since moving up to 3A in 2013. Hayes has been riding on a wave of confidence the last five games, and he believes his latest performances are a result of increased trust across the team.
“In the beginning of the year we started out as individuals and didn’t play team basketball,” he said. “Towards the end we’re starting to trust each other and they’re starting to trust me with the ball. They know if they get it to me, something can happen. The fact that they trust me is going to boost my confidence and make me play better overall.”
When he is at his best, Hayes is posted up deep in the lane, taking attention off teammates Joe LaGrange and Colson Montgomery. Southridge coach Ted O’Brien said Hayes is a heavy load for opponents to deal with when he gets into his spots along the front line.
For O’Brien, there has been one key difference over the last five games which has allowed Hayes to excel — his activity level in the paint.
“He’s more active on the floor, he’s going after rebounds,” O’Brien said. “He’s being active defensively, moving his feet. What he finds out is when he’s active, the rest of the stuff falls into place. The numbers start to appear. Not because you’re doing anything special, you’re just active.”
It’s part of a message that the coaching staff has been talking to Hayes about all season: better seals on post moves, making cuts inside with purpose and intent, getting those offensive rebounds to extend possessions.
All of those things serve to add another dimension to Southridge, which allows O’Brien and the coaching staff to implement the inside-out philosophy of basketball and develop a team that is dangerous all over the court.
“If he’s scoring the basketball at around a 20-point clip, that opens things up for our other guys,” O’Brien said.
“You got to focus on Colson (Montgomery), Joe (LaGrange) as a shooter, now you have to focus on a post presence. It adds some balance. It becomes harder to guard us because our big three scorers are all very active and moving within the offense.”
Hayes is more than happy to tote the rock inside when his teammates get it to him near the basket, but he takes great pride in the defensive improvements he has made over the course of the season.
Hayes looks to former Purdue standout and current Portland Trailblazer Caleb Swanigan and his noted work ethic as an example of what is possible for himself when he decides to make the mental commitment necessary to play top-notch defense.
“Defense is 100 percent mental; if you don’t have the will to do it, you’re not going to play good defense,” Hayes said. “(Coaches) lit the fire and got me going, believing that if I play on that end, the (offensive) end will open up for me. I just bought into that and that’s what’s happening. My mentality is just doing my job and saying my man is not going to score.”
Hayes is going to use the trust and confidence of his team to keep the good times rolling in the postseason.
Southridge will play host this Saturday to the regional games which will determine who goes on to semistate.
The Raiders will play the Silver Creek Dragons (19-5) at 1 p.m., a team which boasts a six-game win streak.
But Hayes thinks if his Raider team has a strong showing on the boards, they will earn the right to keep playing more basketball in the coming weeks.
“We’ve been rebounding the ball well these last couple of games,” he said. “We have to limit them to one shot, we can’t let them get any second-chance points. If our entire team can continue with the effort in rebounding the ball, we should have a good chance to win that game.”
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