LEXINGTON, KY. A former AAU teammate of Drew Gooden, Kentucky's Chuck Hayes once had his heart set on playing basketball for Kansas University.
"I was very close to committing. As a matter of fact, I wanted to go to Kansas. I wanted to go bad," said Hayes, a 6-foot-6, 242-pound senior forward from Modesto, Calif.
Hayes visited Kansas, Kentucky, St. Louis, Texas-El Paso and Pepperdine before signing with UK. He'll be starting for the Wildcats in today's nonconference battle against Kansas.
Former KU coach Roy Williams was putting together a recruiting class of Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles, Michael Lee and Keith Langford, and he put Hayes on hold.
"I guess my game wasn't what he was looking for," Hayes said. "I mean, I was really interested in coming to Lawrence. He told me to hold on and wait, and I wasn't ready to wait."
Williams wanted to complete the class with versatile California guard Josh Childress, who wasn't quite ready to pick a school after attending Late Night in mid-October of 2000.
Hayes, who visited KU for on a football weekend the last week of September, 2000, visited Kentucky for its Midnight Madness and days later was ready to finalize his college choice. Childress wasn't ready to pick a school, however, and Williams asked Hayes to wait a day or two.
"Yes, that was it," Hayes said. "I was ready to make a commitment and Kentucky wanted me then, so I committed to the 'Cats."
Childress ultimately chose Stanford, leaving KU without Childress and Hayes.
"I was kind of disappointed and hurt at the time," Hayes said. "I knew Wayne and Aaron. At the time, Drew was there and I wanted to play with him."
Hayes is averaging 11.9 points and 9.5 boards this season and is just 29 points shy of 1,000. He holds no grudges.
"No, no," Hayes said. "Everything worked out for the best. That's how it usually goes."
But not for Williams, who told the Lexington Herald-Leader, "You can put it in bold script: I screwed up."
Hayes has been described as the heart and soul of Kentucky's team. He has been subject of UK's "All He Does Is Win" campaign to make him an All-American.
However, Hayes combined for 4-of-17 shooting in two games important to All-America voters -- a victory over Louisville and a loss to North Carolina.
"I've tried to force the game instead of letting the game come to me," Hayes said. "I've tried to score over double teams. I've tried to force some shots that weren't there."
Hayes, who has been a part of 75 victories and just 13 losses in his Kentucky career, has led Kentucky in rebounding 10 times this season and has a high of 13 rebounds against Coppin State and scoring high of 18 versus William and Mary.
He thinks KU will be a force to deal with today, despite the fact Simien is slated to miss the contest following thumb surgery.
"I am (disappointed)," Hayes said. "I know Wayne pretty well. We've been talking about this game since the summer. It's too bad he has to be hurt. They are still plenty good with Langford, Aaron and (J.R.) Giddens."
Simien sure wishes he could play.
"Chuck ... that's my guy. We're buddies," Simien said. "We've known each other since high school. We hung out at All-America camps where he did some trash talking. It will be too bad I can't go out and compete against him."
UK coach Tubby Smith loves Hayes' game and thinks he could be All-America despite the fact he's scoring just below 12 a game.
"Every time Chuck plays, he makes a statement, in my opinion," Smith said. "I don't know what other statement he needs to make, other than he needs to play consistently, which he does every night.
"He's an All-American in my eyes. I guarantee a lot of people would like to have Chuck Hayes."