The Los Angeles Lakers signed Nigel Hayes to a 10-day contract on Friday in what was their second such deal of the week. Hayes participated in shootaround and is available for the matchup against the Indiana Pacers.
Hayes’ time with the organization begins in the building he has fond memories of playing in during March Madness as a sophomore at Wisconsin. The Badgers won their Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games in Los Angeles and ultimately advanced to the championship game but suffered a five-point defeat at the hands of Duke.
“It was fantastic,” Hayes said of playing at Staples Center. “First of all, I got Kobe’s locker, which is why we won. Just a good place to be, great vibe. You see all the historical pictures, all the legends, there’s kind of an aura with the building.
“The same way how guys go to (Madison Square) Garden, I think it’s the same thing for the players and opposing players when you walk into Staples Center.”
Hayes of course is eager to latch on with any NBA team, but that he has an opportunity with the Lakers comes with an added sense of excitement, both because of the franchise’s history and his affinity for Kobe Bryant.
Hayes met Bryant after a February 2016 game in Milwaukee, during which he gleaned valuable advice from the five-time champion. “I told him, ‘Kobe, I just love you. I really do. And I’m working hard to be half as good as you,'” Hayes recalled.
“And all he said was, ‘Keeping working and you will.’ Simple. But a lot of people skip over that working part. It actually helped me have a better appreciation for a role I have as a leader.
“The way I looked at Kobe was the way, even though I tell my mom all the time kids don’t look at me like that — the way I looked at Kobe — but there’s always some kids that look at you the way you look at [your idols]. He handled himself extremely well. The advice he gave and how personable he was made me realize I have to be a better role model, not just a basketball player.”
The Lakers interviewed Hayes prior to the 2017 NBA Draft, of which head coach Luke Walton came away impressed. “I remember his interview and thinking what a great young man he is and the way that he carries himself,” Walton said.
“The way he answered questions was all about the team. As far type of people we want around, he stood out from just meeting him over the summer.” Walton raved about Hayes having a team-first mentality.
Julius Randle graduated high school the same years as Hayes, and said they played often played against one another during their childhood days. “I know him pretty well, so I’m definitely excited,” Randle said.
“[He is] very versatile, does a lot of things. Can defend, rebound, pass, create, all that type of stuff. He’s a very hard-nose player, very smart and intelligent, so he’ll be good for us.”
Walton admitted to some challenge with potentially playing Hayes on Friday night considering he has not learned the offense, but added he wouldn’t hesitate to do so if circumstances dictated it.
“If we need to call on him, I’ll feel confident with his basketball IQ to help us out,” Walton said.
WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCUSSION? CHECK OUT THE NEW LAKERS NATION FORUM CLUB