For the first time since his arrival, Shaka Smart’s 2018 recruiting class was devoid of a bona fide headliner; a five-star McDonald’s All-American talent such as Jarrett Allen or Mohamed Bamba. This time around, Texas didn’t sign a player ranked within the top 40 nationally, per the 247Sports Composite, and even then, names such as Courtney Ramey and Kamaka Hepa stole the show.
Towering 6’11 power forward Jaxson Hayes, on the other hand, who signed with Texas as the nation’s No. 102 player and No. 21 power forward, was a prospect far less praised, and understandably so, as Hayes was almost entirely out of the spotlight that comes with college basketball recruiting throughout his first three seasons. Hayes’ high school playing days began on the freshman B Team, though he assures Smart that “he was the only guy at his school to ever have a dunk for the B team.” But nevertheless, his focus was on the football field, where his father shined en route to a 12-year NFL career and now, a stint as the tight ends coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Then came the growth spurt.
Between the start of Hayes’ junior campaign, which saw him average only 1.1 points and two rebounds per contest in limited minutes, and Hayes’ senior season, the once 6’5 wide receiver was now a 6’10 interior talent. It wasn’t until after Hayes’ junior season that his talent — albeit unpolished — took center stage throughout his first AAU stint, as he flashed tremendous length and elite athleticism and praiseworthy defensive and rebounding potential.
Then came the interest and the offers.
By the time Hayes sided with Texas ahead of his senior season, he did so over invitations from Kentucky, Georgetown, Xavier, and Butler, just to name a few, but even at the time of his pledge, Hayes was a three-star prospect ranked outside of the top 225 nationally. Though Hayes went on 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, climbing more than 120 spots in the rankings along the way, his name didn’t exactly sound the alarms the way they would have had Hayes been seen in the same light as Allen or Bamba.
That may soon be set to change, though.
Have seen 20+ teams practice this month and a half & best long-term @NBA prospect I’ve seen is 6-11 @TexasMBB freshman, Jaxson Hayes. Pterodactyl wingspan. Son of NFL coach & former KC Chief, Jonathan Hayes.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) November 2, 2018
Since arriving on the Forty Acres, Hayes has only continued to progress and impress, as evident during the Texas Tip-Off dunk contest.
THE FREE THROW WINDMILL IS TUFFFF @hayes_jaxson (h/t @teamflightbros) pic.twitter.com/osZwRSKJFN— Overtime (@overtime) October 18, 2018
On Monday during his final media availability before the Longhorns’ season-opening media availability, Smart spoke of what started to become evident during the Longhorns intrasquad scrimmage.
“He won’t be a secret for much longer,” Smart said of Hayes. “He’s going to be really, really good. It’s one of those things where he needs to continue to grow and learn on a daily basis and then be the best he can be today. But as much or even more than anyone our team he has an extremely bright future.”
“One of the best things about Jaxson is any time he struggles or any time he has a tough day, he always comes back with an attitude of something to prove and to do better, and that’s a really good sign,” Smart later added. “Because I tell these freshmen all the time the key to your freshman year is how you respond when things don’t go your way. So far, his response has been terrific and he’s a fast learner.”
The fact that Hayes has been dubbed by his head coach as a fast learner shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the game is still fairly new to him. As noted, Hayes hasn’t been tall very long — at least this tall — and while going through his five-inch growth spurt, Hayes largely served as a spectator. Hayes finally saw the floor in an AAU setting in the spring of 2017, but all things considered, he has just one season of true, high-level competitive high school experience beneath his belt.
Naturally, this means Hayes should begin to make much more significant strides as Smart, and more specifically, assistant head coach and big man development specialist Darrin Horn, continue to mold him.
The process begins on Tuesday evening with Eastern Illinois in town, and with Hayes’ growth more likely than not to come on a game-by-game basis, the masses may get a glimpse of the upside Hayes’ head coach has been raving about.
Editor’s note: We apologize for a quotation that was used from behind a paywall. It has been removed.