October 17, 2009
By David Driver
For the News & Messenger
Used with permission
Associated Press file photo
COLLEGE PARK, Md. Even before individual workouts began this fall, the status of senior guard Eric Hayes as a starter for the Maryland Terps this season was up in the air.
Fellow senior guard Greivis Vasquez took his name out of the NBA draft and returns as an All-American candidate. Sean Mosley, a sophomore guard, became a starter midway through his freshman season and made 16 starts last year.
So will Hayes, a former standout at Potomac High, be a starter this season?
"It is a question that needs to be answered. I don't know the answer. It is the coaches' decision," Hayes said Thursday during the annual media day at the Comcast Center.
Hayes played in 35 games with 21 starts last season and averaged 10.3 points and 3.2 assists per game. He scored 15.2 points per game during post-season play and was a second-team all-ACC tournament player. Hayes has played in exactly 100 games during his college career with 62 starts.
"I have experience with both. I am confident with either one," said the soft-spoken, 6-foot-4 Hayes of being a starter or a reserve. Mosley started the last 15 games of last season and Hayes came off the bench. At first he was disappointed with the decision. But he made the transition and was second on the team in minutes per game and became a vital offensive threat off the bench.
Another concern, however minor, for Hayes is a turf toe injury he said he suffered in mid-August or early September during workouts.
"I kind of tweaked it. I didn't think much of it," said Hayes, who added it was a gradual situation and not one specific incident that caused the problem. "I don't think it set me back too much."
"Eric had a great stretch run at the end of the season," Maryland head coach Gary Williams said. "Eric's had turf toe in the preseason, but he's about back to where he can go and he's going to give it a shot on Saturday (when regular practice begins). We're glad to see that."
Hayes said he expects to be at full strength when the Terps play their first exhibition game at home Nov. 3 against Division II Indiana of Pennsylvania. So how does a basketball player get turf toe?
"It is mind boggling to me," Hayes said.
A future in the pros?
The Terp veteran certainly wants to play a major role this season, both for his future aspirations as a possi-ble pro and the promise of the upcoming campaign.
"Pro basketball is definitely in his future," Maryland assistant and former NBA player Keith Booth said of Hayes. "He came here with a high basketball IQ. He understands the game. He is a coach's son. He leads by example."
Another thing that has not changed about Hayes in four years in College Park?
"He stays to himself," roommate and junior reserve David Pearman said of the quiet Hayes.
Maryland was 21-14 last year and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tourney. This year the Terps are ranked No. 20 in the nation by The Sporting News, and other publications have Maryland in the top 25.
"We feel a lot of expectations," said Hayes, who is 171 points away from becoming the 48th player to score 1,000 points at Maryland. "We had confidence last year going into the season. At the end of the year we figured it out. We just want to pick up where we left off last year."
Maryland feels it now has a stronger inside game to go with its backcourt, which is ranked 13th-best in the country by FoxSports.com.
"It is definitely something I have heard a whole lot about: we definitely have a whole lot of size," Hayes said. "One of the best strengths is the chemistry we have. That will helps us a lot. We can go 10 deep if we have to. I think we have more confidence this year."
And that experience is buoyed by the return of Vasquez, who averaged 17.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season as a second-team all-ACC player.
Did Hayes follow the workouts Vasquez had for pro scouts last summer?
"I was definitely following it. I thought it was a 50-50 chance he would come back," Hayes said. "It definitely makes us a better team, him coming back. It helps everyone else as well. I didn't want to bother him about it. It's his decision. It is his life. He is an all-American candi-date. It is going to make you a better team."
Under the radar
Hayes, meanwhile, also has pro dreams. One reporter Thursday noted Hayes has been under the radar at Maryland.
"I don't hope to stay under the radar. I feel like I have been improving every year," Hayes said. "I think I have evolved my game a lot.
Toward the end of the year I was looking for my shot more, trying to be more aggressive, especially getting to the basket more off the dribble," he added. "From my freshman year to now, I've really evolved from being pretty much a set-up guy and a just spot-up shooter to being able to create my own shot a little bit more and getting other guys involved from my getting to the basket."
Hayes said the two former Maryland players he keeps in contact the most are Steve Blake, who played in the NBA with Portland last season, and James Gist, who played in Italy a year ago.
"It is a big year for me and the team. Overseas is something I will look at it," he said. "I just have to improve. I was playing at a high level last year. If the team does well everyone will benefit. It is definitely something that is possible for me."