Terps' Hayes does job quietly

Point guard doesn't get much publicity, but he's steady

March 18, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

Pretend for a second that basketball players are artists.

Greivis Vasquez would be Picasso. Complex, fascinating, sometimes messy, frequently daring, occasionally overrated, but generally brilliant. It would be an easy comparison even if they didn't share the Spanish language. There is nothing subtle about either.

In that case, Maryland's Eric Hayes might just be American painter Edward Hopper. Quiet. Consistent. Subtle and sparse. Underrated. Underappreciated during his time. More interesting and impressive with each glance.

When the fourth-seeded Maryland Terrapins take on the 13th-seeded Houston Cougars on Friday in Spokane, Wash., in the first round of the NCAA tournament, it will almost certainly be Vasquez who draws all the attention. Though the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year is generally regarded as one of the best players in the country, he's also one of the most polarizing. His game is loud and emotional and unapologetic.

Which is exactly the reason Hayes has been, in many respects, the perfect complement to Vasquez and why he just might be the key to how far the Terps advance in the postseason.

"He's very versatile," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "It's almost like extending your bench when you find a player like that rather than just shoot or just handle the ball."

As Hayes enters the final brush strokes of his college career, it's probably fair to say that the 6-foot-3 guard from Potomac High hasn't quite lived up to expectations people had for him when he came to College Park in 2006.

Hayes, an outstanding point guard at the prep level who could also score, was supposed be the second coming of former Terrapins point guard Steve Blake, a starter on Maryland's 2002 national championship team. They had a similar builds and seemed similar emotionally, and the fact that they were both white point guards made it easy to connect the dots. Hayes even embraced the comparison as a teenager.

"Eric wanted to be compared to Steve Blake," Williams said. "When Eric was 14 and 15 years old, Steve was the man here. That was always his guy. I think he liked" the comparisons.

In retrospect, it probably wasn't a fair comparison for Hayes, who has been a three-year starter for the Terps but never made an All-ACC team. Blake wasn't a scorer - he averaged double digits just once during his career, his senior year - but he was deceptively quick, he could run a team, and he could pass and defend as well as anyone in the country. It's the reason he's still playing in the NBA and has been a frequent starter for multiple teams.

Hayes vs. Blake
Hayes isn't deceptively quick, and he's never possessed Blake's penchant for playing as if he had a chip on his shoulder on every possession. But to his credit, he has actually been a better shooter than Blake was in college, and perhaps a more consistent scorer (Hayes has scored in double figures 22 times this season). The reality is, especially since Hayes doesn't play point guard that often anymore, they're completely different players.

"I definitely got a little tired of it," Hayes said of the Blake comparisons. "It was a different situation for him when he was here than it's been for me. He had Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox down on the block. For me to do the same thing he did is kind of out of the question. I think I've done a great job of getting away from that and making a name for my own self."

Perhaps Hayes' greatest strength during his career has been his steady hand. In good times and bad, Maryland generally knows what it's going to get out of Hayes. Pretty good defense, pretty good outside shooting and the ability to make free throws as consistently as anyone in the country. Hayes, who made 45 percent of his 3-pointers this year, is fourth in school history with 191 in his career. His free-throw percentage (.867) will go down as the best in Maryland history if it holds up.

"As a coach, you like to know what a player is going to do when he gets out there," Williams said. "Eric has always had that. Eric is a threat. It helps Greivis Vasquez, it helps Landon Milbourne, and it helps Sean Mosley. If you leave Eric open, he's got a pretty good chance to make a 3. When you try to spread the court with your offense, if teams have to extend on Eric Hayes, it really helps us."

Hayes - who was coached by his father, Kendall, at Potomac - has the kind of personality you see sometimes in players coached by a parent during their formative years. He's quiet and guarded in interviews, carefully choosing his words. On the court, he's humble almost to a fault, often passing on his own shot when he could probably help Maryland by being more aggressive.

Some of his tentative nature, Hayes confirms, comes from hearing whispers growing up that he was playing only because he was the coach's son. Never mind that he finished as his high school's all-time leading scorer.

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