BASKETBALL: ONE HELL OF A GENE POOL
By BRANDON HURLEY
Jaxson Hayes wasn’t used to having his toughness questioned, let alone by his mom.
The 19-year old’s mother isn’t any ordinary parent and the moment of clarity hit Kristi (Kinne) Hayes like a load of bricks.
Perhaps it was due to her 6’10” teenager’s powerful elbow or how the mother of four fully realized the sheer athletic talent her oldest possessed, withdrawing pure adrenaline and passion in the process.
This was no longer a simple competitive battle between mother and son in their Ohio driveway. Kinne-Hayes’ drills had gotten to Jaxson, using his mother’s encouragement to fuel him.
As it turns out, Jaxson, the freshman offspring of Jefferson-Scranton’s most prolific female basketball player, was set to become one of the hottest talents in the country, etching his place among family lore.
The Big 12 Freshman of the Year quickly, if not a little late thanks to a delayed growth spurt, climbed the recruiting ranks during the summer of 2017, exploding from a handful of offers to gathering interest from dozens of Division I schools. He eventually landed at the University of Texas this past fall, where he’s become one of the hottest NBA prospects in the country.
What sets this success story apart is the connections to the state of Iowa, and Jefferson, in particular.
The eldest Hayes, son of Kinne-Hayes and her husband Jonathan Hayes, the former University of Iowa tight end and former Cincinnati Bengals tight ends coach, returned to his mother’s home state in early February as a member of the Longhorns to take on the Iowa State Cyclones.
It was a unique moment, a mere 45 or so miles from the hardwood where his mother shined in the early 90s. She averaged 52 points per game her senior year for the 1991 Jefferson-Scranton six-on-six squad, the top mark in Iowa that year. Kinne-Hayes’ career produced the school’s only two state tournament appearances en route to setting the all-time six-on-six school scoring record of 3,406 career points. The forward was a freshman on the first-ever J-S state tournament team in 1988 averaging 20 points, a squad which featured three future Division I players in Trisha Waugh (Iowa), Cathy Proctor (Kentucky) and Kinne-Hayes. The former Ram was a success from the moment the 5-11 forward took the court, a string of dominance that secured her a scholarship at Drake University. She went on to earn Missouri Valley Conference player of the year honors in 1995, guiding the Bulldogs to a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Jaxson marvels at the uniqueness of the six-on-six game, having never seen the beloved sport in action.
“He believes the stories, but he still wonders why we only got two dribbles,” Kinne-Hayes said. “Those were just the rules. I told him that’s why I appreciated every dribble I had. I got somewhere when I was dribbling. Unlike today, kids will dribble just to dribble.”
Basketball has always been a giant part of Kinne-Hayes’ life, not only for the excitement it provided, but because of the joy it brought her parents. That’s really what drove her to become the best and why it still plays a key role in her day-to-day actions.
“I loved basketball because it made my parents so happy to watch me,” Kinne-Hayes said. “My parents did not critique me, they didn’t tell me what I needed to do better. The more they were impressed, the harder I tried to please them and I fell in love with it. It brought so much fun and joy and purpose to me.”
Likewise, Kinne-Hayes’ oldest has used his talents to provide his family with hours and hours of excitement. Jaxson is a physical specimen on the court, averaging 10 points per game to go with five rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He’s insanely athletic with top-notch measurable, testing in at 6-11, 225 pounds as a raw 19-year old prospect with a 7-4 wing span. He’s the definition of a rim-runner, excelling on defense while executing the pick-and-roll offense to near perfection, scoring a majority of his buckets on vicious dunks or easy layups.
Jaxson has put together quite the career some 28 years after his mother, though not nearly as historic. He’s projected as a top 20 NBA pick this summer and is one of the top big men in the country, the second-most efficient scorer at 73 percent. He’s adapted nicely as a role player, a stark contrast from his mother’s high school days.
Having dealt with the hoopla that comes with high-level basketball before, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Hall-of-Famer has allowed herself to drink in every moment of Jaxson’s sky-rocketing career.
Kinne-Hayes and Jonathan are, in fact, parents to a pair of high profile athletes, as their daughter, Jillian, is second all-time in scoring at Loveland High School in Ohio. The junior has drawn interest from Kentucky, Xavier, Cincinnati and Tulsa, among many others.
Viewing basketball from a parents’ perspective has been an absolute blast for Kinne-Hayes, experiencing exactly what her parents cherished several decades earlier.
“It’s a thousand times better,” Kinne Hayes said. “It’s so nice to see your kids having fun when they work hard and it pays off. And to see that smile on their face.”
Jaxson has made his fair share of visits to Jefferson, as the Hayes family would often make annual trips before high school athletics took over. He last visited Jefferson during his senior year, an adventure which saw him scrimmage with Greene County basketball players, including all-state honoree and the most prolific three-point shooter in Ram history, Trey Hinote.
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After Kinne’s Drake playing career concluded following her 1995 season in Des Moines, she jumped into coaching, first as an assistant at Southern Illinois, then at the University of Oklahoma before starting a family with her husband.
Naturally, Kinne-Hayes, quickly took on the role of super mom, always encouraging her children, but at the same time offering tips. She just couldn’t shake that urge to teach, even if it happened to be her children.
“I coach (Jaxson) all the time,” Kinne-Hayes said. “I don’t know how much he tunes me out. I used to tape his games and then I’d comment on them.”
Kinne-Hayes put her own little spin to it, calling to her coaching days of the past. She’d record her own commentary over the top of the game film, giving Jaxson the choice to watch the film alone, sans the perhaps overwhelming presence of his mom. Whether he kept the volume on or not was up to him.
“It was like a voice telling him but not his mom,” Kinne-Hayes said. “He could shut the volume off if he wanted. I let him decide what he wanted to retain.”
It was all part of growing Jaxson’s passion while also pushing him to become the best he could.
The mother’s coaching habits trickle down to Jillian as well. Kinne-Hayes often dazzled competitors and fans alike on the Iowa high school courts with her patented crossover, a move she admits wasn’t all that common back then. When mom flips on the game film for her high school junior, she’ll pinpoint spots where Jillian could have whipped out Kinne-Hayes’ signature.
“She likes to penetrate and I used to penetrate a lot,” Kinne-Hayes said. “She’s getting so tired of me, because whenever I watch the game tape, I tell her ‘right here, this would’ve been a great time to use the crossover.’”
Jillian has always fit her mother’s mold, it’s Jaxson who needed some soul searching to find Kinne-Hayes’ first love.
Jaxson was antsy as a youngster, which suited him well for the gymnastics and ballet his parents enrolled him in, working on his balance and footwork at an early age.
He continued to grow, and his athleticism expanded with age.
Jaxson originally fell for football, but when a growth spurt hit and his body didn’t fill out, a basketball future looked most likely. Though he didn’t immediately gravitate toward her favorite sport, Kinne-Hayes never pressured Jaxson, she wanted him to choose, even if that meant taking a less conventional path to D-I athletics.
“It’s been rewarding to see him enjoy the same things I enjoyed,” Kinne-Hayes said. “Ultimately, it was what made him happy. Jaxson didn’t (play) AAU until his junior year of high school. We went where his interests were.
What teenage boy wants to follow in the footsteps of his mom? They want to do what their dad does.
When the light switch flipped on and he began to focus, doors opened. During his junior year, Jaxson battled in an AAU tournament against Duke’s Zion Williamson, the projected top pick in June’s NBA draft. Jaxson more than held his own, even blocking one of Williamson’s shots. The offers came rolling in after that, ballooning from interest of two Division I schools to well over 40.
Kinne-Hayes saw a familiar look in Jaxson’s eyes following that monumental summer, which triggered an onslaught of memories.
“I loved basketball and got so much pleasure out of it,” Kinne-Hayes said. “I learned so many life lessons from the sport that I was just happy to see him enjoy it because I knew how much joy it could bring to him.”
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Family has been at the center of Jaxson’s world for most of his life, even if the Hayes’ competitive spirit threatens to get the best of them. Family dinners often evolve into intense battles for bragging rights. Jaxson once boasted how he’d won a state title as the family of six began chowing down, something his mom never achieved. Then Jillian jumped in, touting her Ivy League offer, interest Jaxson hadn’t received, this before their mom came over the top, throwing out her career-best 79 point performance in high school. That’s when dad barged in with the kicker, bragging how he’d played in one of the world’s most cherished sporting events as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers – Super Bowl XXX.
To say competition fuels the Hayes family is a bit of an understatement. At the same time, they look out for each other as well.
“They compete a lot, but I’ve also heard (the siblings) give each other advice,” Kinne-Hayes said. “Jillian will tell Jaxson he needs to rebound a little harder and he’ll give her advice as well.”
The Hayes and Kinne families came out in droves to watch Jaxson grace the Hilton Coliseum floor as Texas took on Iowa State on Feb. 2.
Even in a loss, playing in Ames was a thrill. Jaxson was blown away by the atmosphere, giving Hilton Magic the nod over the vaunted Phog Allen Fieldhouse, home of the Kansas Jayhawks.
“It was crazy,” he said. “Honestly, I felt like, especially when (Iowa State) hit a big three (late in the game), I thought that was the loudest place I’ve ever played in.”
Though a bit unconventional, Jaxson has embraced his mom’s coaching tactics. Her dominance of the immensely popular six-on-six game has trickled its way down to Jaxson’s play on the court.
“All the little details she helped me out with,” the freshman said. “It’s hard to pinpoint it, but she’s helped me with so many things in my game. She’s helped me a ton.”
Kinne-Hayes’ love for the long gone women’s six-on-six game is apparent. Jaxson’s mom can capture the attention of an entire room if given the chance.
“She was really good,” the oldest Hayes kid said. “She likes to tell us that she was an All-American (in high school) and we (Jillian and Jaxson) weren’t.”
As far as that one-on-one session goes, Kinne-Hayes was a tiny bit frightened, but at the same time encouraged by her son’s sudden realization.
“He got so angry at me and led with his elbow,” the mother said. “I kept telling him he was too soft. He did it and came through so powerfully. I’m so thankful I had football pads. But I thought, ‘holy cow, he could be really good.’”
Texas knocked off South Dakota State Tuesday in the first round of the NIT, though Hayes sat out with an injury he suffered March 14 in the Big 12 tournament.
Basketball may bring millions of dollars Jaxson’s way, but his mom, true to any parent, hopes her son gains much more than money, she hopes he builds quality relationships.
“When it’s all said and done and he has a good repertoire of good people around him that share similar likes and care for each other, that’s what I hope he gets,” Kinne-Hayes said.