Hayes hopes to be next PG in Laker lineage

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Junior Aaron Hayes

GVL / Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Junior Aaron Hayes

Jay Bushen

IT TAKES PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE to be a starting point guard at the NCAA level. Grand Valley State junior Aaron Hayes knows this as well as anyone.

As a sophomore at John F. Kennedy High School (Taylor, Mich.), Hayes was somewhat overshadowed. He racked up 211 points and a team-high 52 assists, but it was neither his team nor his time. That honor belonged to star senior, Breland Hogan, who led the Eagles in both assists (52) and points (495).

Hogan, who became a four-year starting point guard at GVSU the next year, didn’t forget about his backcourt mate despite his rise to the Division II ranks. Hogan made a number of trips home to watch Hayes finish his high school career, and even introduced him to one of his Laker teammates — fellow GVSU point point guard Rob Woodson.

“He started bringing Rob around my senior year,” Hayes said. “We started building a relationship there.”

From there, all three point guards continued to improve. Each had different skill sets and different opportunities to show them off, but they all had talent.

As a sophomore at GVSU, Woodson was somewhat overshadowed. He decided to redshirt — it was neither his team nor his time. He continued to work, however, and proved to be an effective change-of-pace option off the bench when Hogan needed a breather.

Hogan battled through a few mediocre seasons with the Lakers, but elevated his game in the process. He earned an All-GLIAC Second Team plaudit in the 2012-13 campaign as a senior before continuing his playing career overseas.

Woodson’s willingness to wait was worth it. The fifth-year senior captained the Lakers to a 19-8 season a year ago, and made play after play in crunch time. He too earned an All-GLIAC Second Team laurel for his efforts, and continued his playing career in Denmark.

“We lost our MVP, our late-game playmaker and a guy that did so much for us last year,” said GVSU coach Ric Wesley.

As a starter, Woodson was a savvy on-ball defender, a zone beater and a floor general who could make plays in transition. His most important role, however, may have been that of a role model. His Laker teammates — from the starting lineup to the practice squad — seemed to respect him.

One of those practice squad players was a junior from Oakland Community College. The point guard had all the skills to contribute, but was forced to redshirt last season after a credit-related holdup in the transfer process. It was neither his time nor his team.

“It was killing my soul just to sit there,” Hayes said. “At first I was devastated I couldn’t play, but I turned the negative into a positive. I just thought, ‘I’m going to graduate ahead of time, I’m going to be able to learn the offense more than I would have if I didn’t sit out that year and I’m going to be able to build relationships with my teammates for the next two years.’

“When I got here I already knew (Rob) so me and him clicked. He showed me the ropes and guided me through that first year. Watching him — it was amazing because of where he started at and then where he ended at — that was crazy.”

WOODSON AND HOGAN certainly helped Hayes grow as a point guard, but a former coach who played the position also sped up the development process.

Antoine “The Judge” Joubert, Michigan’s 1983 Mr. Basketball recipient, was a three-year starter from 1984-87 at the University of Michigan. He distributed 539 career assists, the third-most in program history, and helped bring the Wolverines back-to-back Big Ten championships during his time in Ann Arbor.

Under Joubert’s tutelage at Oakland CC, Hayes quickly became a star for the Raiders. He was an all-everything player — all-freshman, all-conference, all-tournament — in the Michigan Community College Athletic Conference ranks, and led the NJCAA in both free throws made (251) and attempted (309) in 2012-13.

“He can get to the bucket on anyone,” Joubert said. “He’s an aggressive player, an aggressive guard and a great defender. When you talk about guys willing to pressure the ball, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. All of the things you want the coach to have, he has.”

For Joubert, one memory of Hayes stands out.

Oakland CC was engaged in a back-and-forth postseason clash with Wayne County CC. Hayes suffered a thigh bruise early in the game, but decided to play through the injury.

With time winding down, Hayes showed his potential.

“In the last few minutes he scored 13 points on his own,” Joubert said. “It wasn’t off set plays. It was determination. It was ‘you guys can’t stop me.’ He just dominated the ball on defense and every time he got the ball, he scored. He really wanted to win to get back to that championship. I was amazed.”

Hayes was much more than an on-court contributor for the Raiders. Joubert said his former point guard was the type of player that “comes around every 10 years” or so, a standout both on the court and in the classroom. The coach and player are still in contact.

“I love him like a son,” Joubert said.

THIS SEASON, the Lakers return every key contributor minus Woodson. The question at hand, then, is who follows in his footsteps?

The replacement will obviously have some big shoes to fill. There’s no shortage of firepower in the backcourt — with All-GLIAC First Team junior Ryan Sabin, juniors Ernijs Ansons and Darren Kapustka, sophomore Luke Ryskamp and others in the mix — but the starting point guard has yet to be named.

Hayes, after proving himself at the NJCAA level and on the GVSU practice squad, is expected to compete, and — although a nagging offseason injury hasn’t helped his cause to this point — it might just be his turn.

To close friend, roommate and former junior college rival Chaz Rollins, Hayes is more than qualified. Rollins, GVSU’s starting center, said Hayes is arguably the team’s best athlete — a “Derek Rose” who isn’t afraid to drive the lane.

“He can do a little bit of everything,” Rollins said. “He’s a great athlete, he can score, he can pass, he can play one or he can play two. He’s strong enough to play on the wing at the three — you can put him there to guard somebody — he’s a great defender.”

The low-post progression of Rollins, junior forward Ricky Carbajal and senior center Darren “Chief’ Washington (Hayes’ roommates) coupled with the team’s backcourt depth figure to give GVSU a legitimate shot of winning a GLIAC crown this season.

And with a dominant point guard, all the pieces would be in place.

“I tell him every day he’s the X factor, he’s an impact player,” Rollins said of Hayes. “He’s going to be a big-time player for us this year.

“That’s my JuCo buddy. He understands the struggle, how hard it was to get here, and he appreciates being here just like I do.”

It takes patience and persistence to be a starting point guard at the NCAA level, and Hayes has proven he has both. 

It may not be his team yet, but it certainly appears to be his time.