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Texas PF Jaxson Hayes’ defensive upside should pave the way for playing time as a freshman

At 6’11, 220 pounds, Jaxson Hayes is the tallest player for Texas this season, and he boasts elite athleticism to match.

Evan Flood, 247Sports

Playing time in the paint won’t come easy this coming season, but freshman power forward Jaxson Hayes may be a difficult big body to keep benched. With former paint patroller Mohamed Bamba now playing for a paycheck, the Longhorns biggest returning body is the 6’9, 250-pound Dylan Osetkowski, so the now 6’11, 220-pound Hayes stands as the most towering presence in the Horns locker room, and Texas head coach Shaka Smart raved of his upside and continued physical development.

“Jaxson’s future’s extremely bright. He’s actually grown an inch or two since he came on his recruiting visit last fall and physically his body continues to change,” Smart said.

“He’s up around 220 [pounds] now, which is 14 or 15 pounds heavier than he was when he came in. He’s got about 30 or 40 pounds to go to get to what he’s gonna be when he’s a grown man, but the exciting thing is you can see the progression. You can see the growth. He’s a phenomenal athlete; the way that he runs to the rim, the way that he protects the rim on defense is something that’s really going to help our team.”

To dub Hayes as a bit of a late bloomer would be an understatement.

After coming off the bench to average a mere 1.1 points and two rebounds per game as a junior for Ohio powerhouse Cincinnati (Oh.) Archbishop Moeller, Hayes didn’t see his first stint as a starter until his senior season. Of course, prior to that point, Hayes wasn’t the physically intriguing prospect he is today, as he grew five inches between the start of his junior and senior campaigns.

Along the way, as Hayes continued to creep towards his current height, his recruitment took off once his size began to match his elite athletic upside.

Hayes first offer came from Purdue towards the tail end of July 2017, and within the span of just two short months, his invitation list included nearly 20 offers before he dropped a top five featuring Texas, Kentucky, Georgetown, Butler, and Xavier. Virtually over the course of one summer, Hayes quite literally grew into a high-major college basketball prospect, and just over three months removed from his first reported offer, Hayes announced his commitment to the Longhorns.

Throughout the months that followed, Hayes climbed more than 125 spots to his final ranking as a four-star forward ranked No. 102 nationally, per the 247Sports Composite, and that climb likely aligns with the upside Smart and his staff saw in the then-tremendously unpolished prospect.

To an extent, the unpolished portion remains true today, although the progress Hayes has made physically and athletically is borderline mind-boggling. Now 220 pounds, Hayes is up 25 pounds from his final listed high school playing weight of 195, and when it comes to his sheer athleticism, Hayes undoubtedly belongs in the same class as Kerwin Roach II and Jericho Sims.

Though Hayes won’t quite see the role Sims and Roach will as experienced starters, he’ll have a role, nevertheless.

Despite being listed as a power forward, Hayes immediate role in Austin is likely at center, and understandably so. He presents relatively no threat from the perimeter, but at 6’11 with a 7’3 wingspan, Hayes boasts tremendous length, which allowed him to lead the Greater Catholic League last season with 6.9 rebounds and four blocks per game en route to Greater Catholic League Defensive Player of the Year honors.

This isn’t to say Hayes is a complete offensive liability, though, because that’s not the case.

While it’s his glass-cleaning and rim-protecting prowess that will earn him playing time as a true freshman, Hayes excels in open space and is a hyper-athletic leaper who lives above the rim. This, along with a growing understanding of how to utilize his size to find points in the paint and do so at a tremendously efficient rate allowed Hayes to average 12 points per game last season behind a league-leading 67.3 percent clip from the field.

With Hayes leading the way, Cincinnati (Oh.) Archbishop Moeller went on to win 27 of 30 games, including a state title.

With Sims and Osetkowski set to patrol the paint as starters next season, and Royce Hamm returning, where he’ll be joined by Team USA U-18 representative Kamaka Hepa, Smart won’t be short on versatile interior options, but Hayes has as convincing of a case for playing time as any newcomer; Hamm included, considering he played 90 total minutes last season. However, unlike the others, Hayes boasts elite length and his upside as a rebounder and rim-protector should allow him to immediately see time as a backup center, similar to the role Sims inherited last season behind Bamba.