NEW YORK — Jaxson Hayes has a decision to make.
The Texas Longhorns forward made enough of an impact during his freshman season that he’s currently slotted as the No. 6 pick in the NBA Draft, according to the most recent mock draft from NBCSports.com. If Hayes does decide to declare, he certainly might not go that highly, but he’s unquestionably considered a first-round pick at this point in the process.
The next step in the process for Hayes is to meet with his family and the Texas coaching staff this weekend to discuss whether his college career will end after one season, he said after the NIT championship game against Lipscomb on Thursday evening at Madison Square Garden.
“They’re coming down this weekend, so I feel like I’ll be deciding kind of soon,” Hayes said. “We’re not going to rush it, but we’re going to talk it over.”
The early entry deadline for the NBA Draft this year is April 21, which gives Hayes and his family a little more than two weeks to make a choice about his future.
One critical factor in that decision is his health — Hayes suffered a bone bruise in his left knee against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament when he collided with Devon Dotson late in the game. Fortunately for Hayes and his short-term health, he didn’t suffer any structural damage and expects to be fully recovered by the NBA Combine, which begins on May 15.
“I feel like I’ll be good in two or three weeks,” he said.
As a result of that injury, Hayes missed all five games during the NIT, but was in good spirits on Thursday and wasn’t wearing a brace on his injured knee. He’s been rehabbing every day, except for Friday, when he’ll get a day off thanks to the Texas win against Lipscomb.
Asked about the major factors in his decision, Hayes wasn’t willing to provide any specifics, but given how highly he’s ranked in some mock drafts, one major question is the extent to which he could improve his stock with another year in college.
With the new rules governing early entrants, one option is to declare for the draft without hiring an agent. In the past two years, Andrew Jones and Kerwin Roach II both utilized that route and opted to return based on the feedback they received during the pre-draft process.
For Hayes, however, returning is less likely because his stock is higher than Jones or Roach and will likely remain that way as long as he’s healthy for the NBA Combine.
Voted the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Hayes finished his freshman season averaging 10 points, five rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. More impressively, his offensive rating of 133.7 ranked No. 7 nationally, his .728 field-goal percentage also ranked No. 7, and his 10.6 block percentage placed him No. 19. Hayes also shot 74 percent from the free-throw line, a strong number for a big man and one that suggests some potential upside as a shooter.