Badgers' talented freshman works on free throws

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, January 8, 2014

MADISON--The next step in the development of Nigel Hayes’ offensive game:

Improving his free-throw accuracy, which stands at 62.3 percent, or else.

“My teammates are getting on me,” Wisconsin’s freshman forward joked. “My mother is getting on me….

“She is one of the toughest critics out there.”

Hayes’ mother, Talaya Davis, no doubt will be watching when No. 4 UW (15-0, 2-0 Big Ten) hosts No. 23 Illinois (13-2, 2-0) on Wednesday (8 p.m., BTN).

Hayes, a graduate of Whitmer High School in Toledo, noted some of his mom’s critiques might not be appropriate for TV.

“But it’s all in good (fun),” he said. “She knows I’m capable of making my shots.”

And what are the consequences if he doesn’t raise his percentage?

“No more Christmas presents, birthday presents or anything if I don’t make these free throws,” he said, laughing.

Hayes’ shooting percentage from the line, the No. 7 mark on the team among players with more than three attempts, isn’t a significant concern at this point because Hayes averages more attempts per minute than anyone among the top eight players in Bo Ryan’s rotation.

Hayes is second on the team in free-throw attempts (61) despite being seventh in minutes played (227). He averages one attempt every 3.7 minutes.

Point guard Traevon Jackson is the closest to Hayes with one attempt every 6.6 minutes. Jackson averages 30.2 minutes per game; Hayes averages 15.1 minutes.

Hayes, listed at 6 feet 7 inches and 250 pounds, has used a combination of brawn, brains and belief to generate more free-throw attempts (61) than field-goal attempts (59) and tally 38 of his 98 points (38.8 percent) from the line.

“I think he is starting to understand positioning more and he can attack anyone,” said junior forward Frank Kaminsky, who averages 27.2 minutes and has made 32 of 43 free throws. “His face-up shot is coming along and that is going to help him even more getting to the free-throw line because he will be able to pump-fake and get around people and they’ll have to foul him.

“He is a big kid who likes contact.”

Hayes, who lettered in football in high school before focusing full-time on basketball, is strong and quick.

However, his devotion to video work when breaking down opponents has allowed him to use a variety of moves to score or get to the line.

He sometimes uses a quick spin move to the baseline. In the victory over Iowa on Sunday, Hayes drove baseline from the right wing and caught his defender flat-footed. He wasn’t fouled but he scored to give UW a 46-41 lead during a crucial run midway through the second half.

“I’ve learned to catch the ball and let the defense settle and then you can attack,” said Hayes, who in the last four games has made 28 of 40 free throws and is averaging 13.5 points. “Sometimes it is good to attack as soon as you catch the ball when they’re off-guard or off-balance.

“But for the most part if you let the defense get set…I can see how they are guarding me and attack better that way.”

Such patience is not the norm for a young post player.

“Sometimes freshmen, especially post players, try to play too fast,” said UW associate head coach Greg Gard, adding Hayes benefits from excellent footwork and being surrounded by four perimeter shooters. “They think it’s got to happen all right now.

“I think his ability to calculate, be poised and take his time and understand angles and how to use his body…that is the biggest thing.”

Hayes hit 6 of 10 free throws in the 75-61 victory over Iowa. He went to the line five times for two shots and made both shots just once.

“That is one point on those four possessions,” Ryan said of the four times Hayes hit 1 of 2 attempts. “And I know people agonize and they go: ‘Man, he’s got to shoot free throws better than that.’

“If we can get one point per possession, we can live with that.”

Ryan can. But can Hayes’ mother?

“Her career ended a little short in seventh grade when she realized she was not a basketball player,” Hayes said, grinning “She was really put in to use her five fouls and that was it….

“I’m sure she probably could shoot free throws. She tries to teach me sometimes when I’m in the gym back home.”

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