It was 4:36 p.m. Thursday on the East Coast when Nigel Hayes got the call from his agent. He knows the exact time because he’s keeping a journal during his first season as a professional athlete, and this particular conversation was definitely something that was worth documenting.
Kevin Bradbury caught his client right before Hayes was about to board a bus in Portland, Maine, for his 31st game with the Westchester Knicks of the NBA’s G League.
Bradbury told Hayes, a former University of Wisconsin men’s basketball standout, he wouldn’t be playing against the Maine Red Claws that night. The 6-foot-8 forward needed to pack his things and head to the airport.
Hayes was headed to the NBA to join the Los Angeles Lakers on a 10-day contract.
How did Hayes react to the call he’s been waiting for since he first picked up a basketball?
“I was extremely calm,” he said Friday morning. “My roommate (Devon Baulkman) was jumping around the room. He said, ‘I’m more excited than you are right now.’
“I think I’m just making sure I’m focused and ready for this. It’s what I’ve been waiting for, so I wanted to make sure I go in there with a clear head.”
After quickly packing his bags, Hayes caught a flight from Portland to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where he connected to another bound for Los Angeles. He arrived around on the West Coast around 1 a.m. and got some sleep before a big day that included a physical, team shoot-around and a game between the Lakers and Indiana Pacers on Friday night at Staples Center.
Bradbury and Hayes had talked on Wednesday, with the former letting his client know there were NBA teams interested in him. Hayes just had to be patient.
“I told him everything is going to work out perfectly,” Hayes said. “We just had to wait our time. One of the doubts about me was ‘Can he shoot?’ OK, I think I’ve answered those questions.”
Hayes averaged 14.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 30 games with Westchester. He shot 72.6 percent from the free throw line and 44.0 percent from 3-point range, a significant improvement in both areas from his final season with the Badgers.
“I’m not going to school anymore, so I can dedicate all of my time to working on my game,” said Hayes, who shot 30.0 percent from beyond the arc during his final two seasons at UW and 58.7 percent from the line as a senior.
“I’m using that extra time where I don’t have to go to class or do papers or do group projects to make sure that I’m getting better at the weaknesses, holes and flaws in my game.”
Hayes wouldn’t have been picky about which NBA team gave him a chance, but the fact it’s the Lakers is special because he’s a big fan of Kobe Bryant.
“To play in that organization and that building, go in that locker room and see all the trophies that they have at the practice facility and the arena, just to be around that aura and vibe is a good thing,” Hayes said. “It’s definitely something to be proud of.”
Hayes will wear No. 15 with the Lakers, a midway point between the No. 10 he wore with the Badgers and the No. 20 he wore with Westchester.
“I want to merge those two and become the best of both versions of that Nigel,” he said. “If I do that, I think I’ll be a pretty solid player.”
Hayes understands there are no guarantees that come along with signing a 10-day contract in the NBA. He could be back in the G League in less than two weeks, or this opportunity could lead to another.
“It’s a foot in the door,” he said. “I would love, love, love to play for the Lakers and be in L.A., and the 10-day is my opportunity to show I can help this organization. At the same time, it’s also an audition interview for the other 29 teams that are watching the game. The Lakers may need me, but there may be another team that really needs me. Either way, I just want to go out and show the best version of Nigel.”