November 11, 2009 in The Good Stuff
The road to the NBA is never an easy one, even for the kids who wind up as first round draft picks with guaranteed contracts handed to them. Chuck Hayes wasn’t drafted into the NBA, so his journey was even harder. He worked his way into the league by standing out in the NBADL and catching the attention of the Houston Rockets. He recorded a double-double in the second game of his first ten-day contract in January of 2006 and he’s been an invaluable member of the team ever since.
“It’s really an internal drive,” Hayes says of what got him to this point of his career. “This is what I’ve wanted to do all my life. It would have been great to hear my name called on draft night, but mine wasn’t, unfortunately. I had to take the alternate route through the D-League and I enjoyed my experience down there. It was a learning experience, a humbling experience, and it showed me that everybody has a different story, a different path. Mine took the Albuquerque route and came back here.”
Hayes’ numbers don’t jump out at you, averaging right around seven points and seven rebounds per game, but the Houston Rockets aren’t about box scores or flashy stats. They’re a team that truly appreciates the intangibles, which is why Hayes fits in so well.
“They appreciate good basketball,” Hayes explains. “They appreciate the little things. From the coaching staff to the front office, they notice everything and not just the box scores. They see everything a person brings to the team and how they can benefit the team. I’m grateful that they trust me and they’ve shown loyalty to me, and I want to show my appreciation by going out there and playing my butt off.”
Rockets VP of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie believes Hayes represents what his team strives to be on a daily basis.
“Chuck Hayes definitely embodies what our team is about, the way that the roster has been put together, and the way our coaches go about planning for games,” says Hinkie. ” He is a winner who has consistently won, who makes winning basketball plays on both ends of the floor – not just defensively. He’s playing now more like he played in his second year in the league after we called him up from the D-League in his rookie year. He’s an aggressive and opportunistic offensive player who takes advantage of what’s give to him. He’s always been a stalwart for us defensively, and there were times when his role was smaller and he was sort of in our bullpen. We could call on him when we needed him, which was quite often, as a defensive specialist. I think he’s back to a place physically and mentally, and has been given a role, in which he can do more and we need him to do more. He’s doing a great job.”
It’s one thing to garner that kind of praise from your own team; getting praise from opposing teams is another thing entirely.
“He’s a winner,” says Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, shaking his head. ” That’s the bottom line. He makes winning basketball plays. One of my former basketball coaches categorized players in one of two ways, either you’re a winner or you’re a loser. There is no gray area. Chuck Hayes is a winner. People in Houston love him and they should; he does so many great things for your team and he’s loved around the league. He plays extremely hard. He’s from my home town, so I’ve followed him, and he’s won everywhere he’s been.”
The Rockets have been a hard luck story for some time, missing Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady intermittently and currently missing both. All-Stars or no All-Stars, the Rockets continue to win, and anyone you ask will attribute their success to hard work and intensity. Chuck Hayes is one of the prime instigators.
“We know we have to play even harder, and for me, as a veteran on this team, I have to pick up my intensity to help make up for some of the guys we’re missing. We can’t wait for a Yao or a Tracy to bring it. I have to pick up my intensity first to kind of set the example for all of these new bodies. That starts even before training camp and even more today. Even if we’re having a scrimmage before a game, it’s a very competitive environment. The trash talking gets intense and the guys get after it. For a split second you might not like your teammate, that’s how hard we run. From training camp and even until this day practices are very competitive.”
With Yao Ming down, Hayes has become basically the default veteran big man tasked with helping rookie David Andersen make his adjustment to the NBA game.
“The responsibility really falls on all of us, but since he’s a big it really does start with me,” says Hayes. “I’ve taken some responsibility to get him adjusted to the pro game, let him know what to expect and how to deal with certain situations. I’ve just tried to share my experiences with him.”
It’s a far cry from where he started. Chuck Hayes has gone from D-League castoff to veteran leader on an NBA playoff team, and he’s done it the hard way. Hard work and determination have defined Hayes’ career, and it’s those attributes that will make him a factor in the NBA for years to come.