Whether he pivoted across the lane and used his length to pin a shot against the backboard, stopped a driving player cold in his tracks in the paint or prevented a shot attempt, the University of Texas signee was a defensive force.
“He has such great timing and let’s you think you have a chance to make the shot and then the next thing you know he’s sending the ball in a totally different direction,” said Moeller junior guard Miles McBride.
Moeller (23-3) will make its fifth consecutive regional tournament appearance Wednesday when the Crusaders play Springfield (21-4) in a semifinal at 6:15 p.m. at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
Hayes, the son of Bengals tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes and former college basketball All-American Kristi (Kinne), has been a significant reason why the Crusaders have enjoyed a defensive resurgence this second half of the season.
“He’s really the most freak athlete we’ve ever had in our program,” Moeller coach Carl Kremer said. “He’s just scratching the surface of his ability. He’s literally getting better every week.”
He went from about 180 pounds to 210 pounds. His improved skill set has paid dividends on both ends of the floor.
Hayes also averages 11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists while shooting 64 percent from the field.
Defensively, Hayes has 137 career blocks – surpassing the previous Greater Catholic League South Division regular-season record of 101 set by La Salle’s Blake Simpson (2012-14), according to Albrinck and Schiavone.
Moeller has had very talented forwards and centers over the years (think Josh Duncan, Andrew Brackman and Nate Fowler) but Kremer has never had a rim protector quite like Hayes.
“It’s been an explosion of his talent,” Kremer said of his standout’s progress this season.
Hayes agrees with the assessment he is improving each week. He says he’s learning to do the little things better like blocking out and reading whether an opposing player wants to drive or pass.
Moeller has had new starting personnel this season, but those players haven't missed a beat in analyzing scouting reports and performing on the court.
“This team has really had, I think, a monumental challenge,” Kremer said. “Four new starters, but everyone has expected them from Day 1 to be a great team. It’s taken this team a while to get where they are, but I think you saw (Saturday) the team defense has really, really improved in the second half of the season.”
Like his coach and teammates, Hayes is taking nothing for granted.
“Everyone is always like, ‘Oh, you are going to whoop them because you guys are you’,” Hayes said. “But it’s not that simple. We have to always bring our game every day. If we slack once, we are going to lose because everyone is going to bring their best against us.”