Ex-Badgers star Hayes having fun during latest NBA audition

LAS VEGAS — After a recent NBA summer league game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, when all the players started to head to their locker rooms as per usual, there was one rogue Clipper that hung around the tunnel to chat with fans, grabbing their sharpies to sign whatever they wanted, and soaking up the entire atmosphere with a smile.

That player was former Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes.

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“You got to have fun with it,” Hayes said. “You have to engage the fans, they spent their money and time to come watch you play, support you and to cheer, and you kind of want to return that favor. That favor just being spending time with them signing autographs and saying hi. It’s a give and take, they give us their money for us to be able to play this game and their time to come watch, and in return we give them effort on the court.”

Effort has never been Hayes’ problem. He finished the matchup against the Lakers with 13 points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists. Including in his scoring was a vicious baseline one-handed dunk. It was so forceful that the momentum threw him to the floor, and that kind of effort and enthusiasm is exactly what Hayes wants to show during this summer league.

“That right there is an example of me being aggressive,” Hayes said. “This is an athletic game, very athletic players and I’m showing I have that ability to beat a man off the dribble and finish. Above the rim is a very good thing for me to show.

“The ability to score on offense I think is what teams want to see. They know my defense is consistent and will always be there, they know the passing is there. The main objective of the full game of basketball is put it in the rim, so, if I do that and do better each game more consistently things will be perfect. It’s not even more consistently, its being more aggressive and trying to make things happen.”

This isn’t Hayes’ first stop in the NBA. He had short stints with the Knicks, Kings, Lakers and Raptors organizations, playing in nine combined regular-season games during the 2017-18 season. But last season he left the U.S.  to play basketball for Galatasaray, a Turkish team, where he averaged 13.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 39.5% from 3-point range. While in Turkey, Hayes didn’t just use his time there to only flourish at basketball, he also has used it as a chance to broaden his cultural skills.

“I didn’t do much really there, I did some sightseeing here and there, but it was really just focusing on the game of basketball and getting back and focusing on the NBA, which is the place where not only I want to go but I know I’m able to play and I know I can play and be a good component and good asset for a team,” Hayes said. “Being in Turkey kind of helped me out to focus on language learning. I was able to learn … Turkish (and) Italian and I started German. I’m just trying to be well-cultured and learn as much about the world as I can.”

Now in his second summer league go-round, Hayes is determined to use this opportunity to make an NBA roster. When he isn’t playing Hayes returns to the states to train in the familiar Midwest with a familiar ex-Badger and current NBA player.

“When I’m training, I’m in Chicago usually with Frank (Kaminsky), and me and Frank work out together. It’s always good to catch up with teammates,” said Hayes.

Of course, it’d be even better to catch up with both on the court during an NBA regular-season game. For that, Hayes will keep working. And having fun doing it.