Find out how Chuck Hayes has made the most of his modest stature. Plus, No. 42 shares his keys to success, gameday routine and more.
While the average height of an NBA center last season was a shade over 7-foot, Chuck Hayes, who stands 6-foot-6, has proven size is not a prerequisite for playing what is traditionally basketball’s tallest position.
Hayes, one of the shortest regular center/forwards in League history, hasn’t allowed his modest stature to serve as a disadvantage, developing into an elite post and pick-and-roll defender and an exceptional rebounder with an unmatched blend of strength, quickness and sheer determination.
“My keys are pushing (the opponent) as far away from the basket as I can – use my strength to hold him down,” he explains. “Then, if I do push him far away from the basket, I use my foot speed to keep him even further away if he tries to face-up.”
During his tenure with the Houston Rockets, Hayes, who modeled his game after 11-time All-Star Charles Barkley and admired Kings legend Chris Webber, received an influential DVD of a rugged, similarly-sized forward from then-Coach Jeff Van Gundy, which helped shape his defensive approach.
“(Coach Van Gundy) gave me video footage of Anthony Mason guarding (Michael) Jordan one play, Scottie Pippen one play, Alonzo Mourning one play and Hakeem Olajuwon on another – all four different types of players, but Anthony Mason was willing to guard all four,” recalls Hayes. “That’s what (the Rockets) needed out of me in my second year in the League, and ever since then, it kind of stuck with me.”
In Houston, Hayes routinely faced 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming – despite being a full foot shorter than the eight-time All-Star – and 7-foot-2 center Dikembe Mutombo – the NBA’s second all-time shot blocker – in practice. At 250 pounds with a muscular lower body and quick hands, Hayes gained insight from the two elite centers on how to best use his strengths to guard the player he faces and how to outlast his opponent for the entire game with relentless physicality.
“Over the course of a game, it’s a marathon,” he says. “If a guy starts scoring buckets in the first or second quarter, you still have the third and fourth quarter to let him not be impactful and more chances to win.”
The strategy has clearly paid dividends, as an almost comical mismatch on paper, turns into a long night for opposing big men.
In 11 games versus the L.A. Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, Hayes has outrebounded the 7-foot center and held him to 47.4 percent shooting from the field – nearly 10 points below his career average.
Memphis Grizzlies 7-foot-1 center Marc Gasol shot 40.9 percent from the field and averaged just 3.3 rebounds per game in four matchups with Hayes last season.
In his last two contests against Boston Celtics All-Star Kevin Garnett, Hayes has held the former MVP to just 40.9 percent shooting from the field and only four rebounds per game.
The undersized star’s road to prominence as one of the game’s top defensive stoppers, however, has been anything but short on challenges. After going undrafted in 2005 following a stellar four-year career at the University of Kentucky and earning MVP honors at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, Hayes signed with Houston, but was the team’s final roster cut in training camp. Hayes went on to play 15 games with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds in the NBA D-League – notching 10.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game – before inking a 10-day contract with the Rockets in January of 2006.
The hard-working Hayes continuously impressed his teammates and coaches with his tenacity over the coming years, earning more playing time with each passing season. In 2008-09, Hayes played in 72 games, starting one, and averaged 1.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 12.1 minutes per game. Over the next two years, he started 145 out of 156 contests and steadily improved every facet of his game.
Hayes set career-highs in nearly every statistical category in 2010-11, including scoring (7.9 PPG on 52.7 FG%), rebounds (8.1), assists (2.7), steals (1.1) and blocks (0.7), and on March 23, 2011, recorded his first-career triple-double with 13 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists – one of his personal favorite career highlights.
“(Players) get close (to a triple-double) every night – I never thought I’d be the type of player to even get close to one,” he reflects. “As I made it closer, I was just like, ‘It’s not going to happen – something’s not going to happen – this night can’t be that perfect,’ but it was.”
Before being sidelined for three-to-four weeks with a dislocated left shoulder, Hayes has grabbed at least nine boards in five of his first eight games with the Kings, and tied a career-best with three blocks against the Lakers on Dec. 26, 2011. The Kings big man is one of only nine players who ranks in the top-20 in offensive, defensive and total rebound percentage in the League.
With an average age of just under 25 years, the Kings are currently the youngest team in the League, making Hayes’ leadership, mentoring and infectious work ethic all the more essential. After recognizing the impact the six-year veteran made in just a few days during training camp, the team named Hayes Captain.
“It just means I have a lot of responsibility on my hands,” says No. 42. “I have to monitor and kind of (supervise) the team – keep our mindset focused and make sure these guys understand the commitment and what it takes to win in this League.”
Two of the players with whom the Modesto, Calif., native has already formed a strong bond are forward J.J. Hickson and rookie Jimmer Fredette.
“(Jimmer) asks me a lot of questions. I give him a lot of insight and we feed off each other defensively so far,” says Hayes, adding he has been impressed with how quickly the former BYU standout has soaked in a wealth of information.
Before playing in his first game with the Kings, however, Hayes faced an unexpected and frightening complication, when a routine physical exam showed a heart irregularity. During one of the most difficult times of his life, in which he underwent 11 hours of testing at the Cleveland Clinic, he was touched by the outpour of well wishes he received from Kings fans via Twitter.com/c_hayes44.
“That meant a lot – I felt really humbled by the fans of Sacramento, sending out their prayers and their support during my health issue situation,” says Hayes. “I felt wanted.”
Given a clean bill of health by one of the country’s top cardiac care hospitals, and with the whirlwind of emotions fully behind him, his focus is strictly on doing everything he can to help lead the Kings back to the postseason.
“I want to improve our record. I want to be in contention for making the Playoffs,” says Hayes. “I just want to compete and win – that’s it. (However) many games we need to make the Playoffs, I want to win that many games.”
Recovering from a shoulder injury is just minor bump in the road for a player who has earned a reputation for his character and ability to overcome all odds.
Get to Know Chuck:
- Pregame routine: Lunch – a chicken or turkey sandwich – and a nap
- Favorite musical artists: Kanye West and “old school music,” including Run-DMC, Marvin Gaye and George Duke
- Favorite movies: “Higher Learning,” “The Warriors,” “A Time to Kill”
- Favorite TV shows: “Love and Hip Hop,” “Law & Order: SVU”