Desire drives Marquette’s Hayward
“He said I don’t care what you do, if you play sports or as a student, if you don’t give 110 percent, you’re not going to do it,” Lazar Hayward Jr. remembered, recalling a rare lecture by his father about effort.
Said Lazar Hayward Sr.: “I never had to tell him again.”
It’s a familiar story about Hayward, a Marquette forward, who rarely needs anyone to drill home a point. Growing up as an off-the-radar athlete in basketball coldbed Buffalo with his single father, he learned to live by the lessons his dad taught him.
One of only two seniors and the only returning starter at Marquette, Hayward has embraced his leadership role in hopes of guiding the Golden Eagles (11-6, 2-3 Big East) to the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight season. Two of their conference losses have come against No. 4 Villanova by a combined four points and the other was to No. 11 West Virginia by a point.
Marquette has a chance to even its conference record tonight night at the Allstate Arena against wayward DePaul (7-10, 0-5).
Hayward’s name rarely arises in discussions about the league’s top players. But his consistency, flexibility to play in the post despite being 6-foot-6, and proficiency in the paint or on the perimeter lead many to believe he’s one of the most underrated.
“He’s such a unique player,” coach Buzz Williams said. “He’s getting touches but not always in the same place. That’s a rarity.”
Hayward ranks fifth in the conference with 18.8 points per game and 12th with 7.4 rebounds per game. Other than a season-opener blowout, he has scored in double figures every game since and at least 20 points in 10 games.
But Hayward has never fit neatly into the star-athlete mold.
A burgeoning high school baseball pitcher with a 75 -miles-per-hour fastball, he didn’t earn a spot on the varsity basketball team until he was a junior thanks to a 4-inch growth spurt. With only Division III showing interest, he attended Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts and was told to expect time on the bench.
Instead, he caught Marquette’s attention. Then after landing at the guard-oriented program, he’s played center against Big East giants.
“These guys were like 6-9, 6-10,” Hayward said. “It was an adjustment.”
Williams describes Hayward as “pure.”
“He has a distinct sense of fairness,” Williams said. “He’s never taken a selfish shot. He’s never griped. It’s never about ‘me,’ it’s always about ‘us.’ I’ve never been around a better human being who played for me.”
“He’s a very thoughtful person,” said former Marquette coach Tom Crean, now at Indiana, who recruited Hayward. “He’s been raised the right way. There’s no entitlement or enabling in the Hayward family.”
The Hayward guys always stuck together.
“There’s not really a lot of expressing emotions,” Hayward Jr. said smiling.
But there is a deep loyalty and camaraderie.
Maybe it wasn’t always in a cuddly manner, but Hayward Sr., closely monitored how his 11-year-old coped with the departure of his mother, a 5-foot-10-inch beauty who used to tuck in her son every night.
After a trip to Six Flags, she told him she was leaving to pursue a modeling career in New York. He hasn’t seen her since.
“He was a happy kid,” Hayward Sr. said. “(I told him) ‘We have to make what we have work.’”
As the team’s leader, Hayward visits teammates’ rooms nightly for chats. After a home victory against Georgetown, for instance, junior Jimmy Butler waited for Hayward while he spoke to a reporter for about 20 minutes. An assistant coach reminded Hayward to oversee the freshmen in the weight room the next morning.
As Hayward left the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, he wasn’t listening to advice. He was imparting it and hoping another player will apply it—even if he has to repeat himself to achieve his goals.
“The way we work,” Hayward said, “the sky is the limit for us.”