Nigel Hayes is a 26 year old 203cm forward from Toledo, Ohio that is playing his fourth professional season and second with B.C. Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania-LKL). Last season for B.C. Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania-LKL) he played 28 Euroleague games averaging 6.3ppg, 3.5rpg, FGP: 43.8%, 3PT: 37.2%, FT: 75.8%; and played 24 Lithuanian LKL games averaging 7.1ppg, 3.0rpg, 1.3apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 49.4%, 3PT: 35.0%, FT: 76.7%. In his first season overseas he played with Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul (Turkey-BSL) playing 33 BSL games averaging 12.6ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 51.6%, 3PT: 39.3%, FT: 74.7%; and played 10 Eurocup: games averaging 15.7ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.8apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 57.4%, 3PT: 43.2%, FT: 91.7%. As a rookie he played 38 G-League games for the Westchester Knicks averaging 16.1ppg, 6.7rpg, 2.1apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 44.9%, 3PT: 45.4%, FT: 74.4%. He also played 2 NBA games for the Los Angeles Lakers, 2 NBA games for the Toronto Raptors and 5 NBA games for the Sacramento Kings. He played his NCAA career at Wisconsin from 2013-2017 playing a total of 148 NCAA games. He spoke to germanhoops.com before a Euroleague game against FC Bayern Munich.
Nigel thanks for talking to germanhoops.com.com. Christmas is right around the corner. With what kind of feelings are you going into this year’s Christmas?
My main focus is basketball. Just concentrating on getting that next win and getting into the top 8 of Euroleague.
Before we get to your basketball career, I have to ask you about how you experienced COVID-19 in 2020. Your season ended in March 2020. What were the biggest challenges this year in trying to continue to be a basketball player on and off the court?
I was very fortunate during COVID-19 to be able to work out whenever I could. I feel like I got better as a player and also improved my body. I also could take care of things off the court with my investments. It all went very well despite so many in the world being affected.
With all that you have experienced in 2020 how do you feel did COVID-19 make you stronger as a man?
I don’t really know. I have been very fortunate to say that none of my family or friends were affected by COVID-19. I have anti bodies and never had COVID-19. I’m immune to it.
Your playing your second season with B.C. Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania-LKL). The club is doing very well in the LKL league and is up and down in Euroleague. Where do you see the journey of the club going this season?
We are currently on a good way. We did go through some tough Euroleague loses and some games were very close. We had games where we did enough, but not as much as we could of. Recently we have been doing the little extra on offense and defense and just playing winning basketball.
What has been your impression of the German coaching duo of Martin Schiller and Arne Woltmann? What has been key in their work that has helped the team most so far?
Both coaches have been very trustful of us and being very positive allowing us to play free and play through mistakes. They also have been good with skill work with us and giving us confidence to be aggressive on the court. I feel like the team has gotten better with their system.
The club has quite a few players that have played in Germany. What kind of an experience has it been playing with Augustine Rubit? Is the competitive level in practice one that you would call fierce?
It has been good being teammates with a player that is focused on the team. He has been around many teams, players and coaches and has experience. He has shown from day one that he stands behind me and is always aggressive which fits my game. He has that similar shot to Dirk with that one foot knee in the air. His fade away is a money shot and very hard to guard. It has benefited me very much having such a smart and hard working player on the team.
Last season you played for the Lithuanian legend Sarunas Jasikevicius. What kind of an experience was it balling for him and what will you never forget from his character?
Playing for him has been like a fantastic misery. On the one side he saw me as an interesting player. It was great to see his mind work and observe how his different schemes work. It also is great to see how he makes adjustments on the fly after time outs. The horrible part was that he is just tough to play for. He is a real perfectionist. Even when you did something right, you could of done it better. But the way he coaches makes his players and team better.
Your playing your third season in Europe. How are you a better player now than you were when you landed in Turkey in 2018?
It isn’t even close. I’m a much much better player today then I was two years ago. Every game that I have played in Europe over the years has made knowing that basketball at home is a lot easier. So many guys that have played overseas as well as in the NBA have also said this. The European game has allowed me to see the game a lot better. When I look at NBA clips now, then I right away know exactly what I would do in that situation.
As a rookie you played with : Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul (Turkey-BSL) playing 33 games averaging 12.6ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.1apg, 1.2spg, FGP: 51.6%, 3PT: 39.3%, FT: 74.7%;and played 10 Eurocup games averaging: Score-5 (15.7ppg), 5.6rpg, 1.8apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 57.4%, 3PT: 43.2%, FT: 91.7%. What do you remember being your wake up call to being in Europe where you knew that you were very far away from home?
When I landed and got in the car in Istanbul. I realized right away that I couldn’t read anything. Coming to Turkey was a total culture shock for me. People spoke English there, but still Turkish is the main language. They have a totally different religion to what we know and that takes over their culture.
You began your rookie season with the Westchester Knicks (NBA G League) playing 38 games averaging 16.1ppg, 6.7rpg, 2.1apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 44.9%, 3PT: 45.4%, FT: 74.4%.Besides getting sufficient minutes what do you feel was most important in these first pro months that prepared you best for your NBA run?
I did there what I do now. I became more selfish, but in a good way. Becoming more aggressive in my game has made me a better team player and made my teams better. Just like back at home when I was more aggressive, I helped my teams win more here. My time there was one of the greatest time periods in my life. I was in the best present situation then. All the guys around me were fantastic. We all had one mind and bought into it. That rarely happens.
In your third game you exploded with 37 points against Delaware. Did you take out Trey Burke after that sensational game?
No no I didn’t take him out to dinner. We were all playing for each other. There was no jealousy, we all bought into the system together and always worked hard together. I was super aggressive in that game. When that happens usually good things happen.
You reached the NBA playing 2 games for the Los Angeles Lakers on a 10 day contract. The team was young. What memories do you have of that brief time and does one notice that your different from the rest of the players on a 10 day contract?
Not really. I was there just analysing the situation as best as I could. Just trying to understand what was going on and how the players act. This happened in all three of my NBA stays my rookie season. I was never permanently on one of those teams. I was always leaving. I learned very much from my experiences in the NBA which have helped me in Europe.
Did you experience an eye popping experience with the Los Angeles Lakers like seeing a Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant at the facilities?
Yes I saw Magic. He is one of my favorites to watch. He brings that killer ferocious instinct and then smiles after making that no look pass. The most important thing that he told me was too be aggressive. The story of my career.
Your next tour of duty was with the Toronto Raptors. Here you had some real veterans. Which player in your short time there made the biggest impact on you?
CJ Miles made the biggest impact on me. He is a great person that took care of me. I will always remember him as being an upstanding human being.
You then finished the season with the Sacramento Kings going from 4 minutes per game in Los Angeles and Toronto to 21 minutes there. Did you finally feel like you belonged?
No not really. Like I said before, my whole NBA time was a lot of down loading of information that has helped my career since.
You battled against the Spurs scoring 7 points and getting 9 rebounds going against Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Manu Ginoboli. What will always stand out most form this game?
I always put myself in the moment. When I was on the court and saw these Hall Of Famers, I had that wow feeling.
Was it like a candy store for a little boy for you getting the chance to be teammates with Vince Carter? What did you soak up best from him and what lasting impression did he leave on you?
I told my assistant coach Tautvydas Sabonis when we were working out recently about my time with him and how I was just tagging along like a fly on the wall. Really key for me was watching how he would recover and get ready. Like I said before that whole year was a downloading year for me.
You have played NBA Summer League from 2017-2019. How realistic is the NBA still for you now in 2020?
I believe that it is very realistic, but at the moment I’m not worrying about it. If you do your job and take care of business then the NBA will notice you. They have a million eyes. I watched the Patrick Beverly documentary and in it he said how much he needed to get back to the NBA right away after coming overseas. Then when it didn’t happen he said screw it and told himself to become the best he could overseas. That is then when the NBA called.
You played at Wisconsin (NCAA) from 2013-2017 reaching the NCAA final, Final 4 and wo Sweet 16’s. Was this some of your best times in your life and what do you miss most about those 4 years?
Absolutely. My sophomore year was perfect. All that I needed was a NCAA title. You can’t always have what you want in life. But my time at Wisconsin from school, social life, relationships etc were fantastic.
You put up very consistent stats in the NCAA. How vital was the team success for your personal growth as a player at Wisconsin?
In college it’s all about team. That is all that matters. We all bought in. The formula was run the system, and sacrifice for the team. Usually when you do that great things happen.
In the 2015 NCAA final run you disposed of North Carolina and Kentucky. What do you remember most from beating those NCAA powerhouses?
It was a great experience being able to beat these revered teams.
How did coaches Bo Ryan and Greg Gard groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
It boiled down to learning the fundamentals. Wisconsin isn’t really a basketball program that brings players to the NBA. This isn’t a knock on the team. They are a school that prepares you to be a disciplined player. Besides the fundamentals also getting an IQ was important. I learned how do things the right way there.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Sam Dekker?
I won for sure. Always.
Who is the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that reached the NBA?
It wasn’t a guy that I played against, but a guy I always heard stories about before I arrived. It was Doug Mcdermott. He was really tough to guard. He could do what he wanted to.
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time?
Josh Gasser, 2 of the football players in high school (They are the best teammates because all they care about is winning. Jordan Henriquez, Trevon Jackson
Please list your personal NBA Mount Rushmore of past or present players.
Jordan, Kareem, Wilt, Lebron
What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
Jordan is better. For me the GOAT are Kareem, Wilt and Bill Russell, but big guys are never seen like that because they aren’t flashy. Jordan reached the milestones that Lebron did in half the time.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Angel Has Fallen.
Thanks Nigel for the chat.