In some months, Victor Wembanyama erase his trace from the 865,986-page book of NBA records. Promised to first pick of the Draft in June, Wemby will forever become the highest-ranked Frenchman in the lottery, which sends the best prospects to discover the country each year. The kid from Nanterre will then dethrone Killian Hayes (21), who was drafted seventh in 2020 by the Detroit Pistons, with a four-year, $ 24 million contract.
Two and a half years later, the Franco-American is back on our good old soil, on the occasion of the NBA Paris GameThursday at Bercy, where the Pistons will be opposed to the Chicago Bulls. Not really the poster of the century, but the opportunity for Killian Hayes to surf on the beautiful dynamic started in November, after two very difficult first seasons in the League, the fault in particular of a hip injury the first year.
“I just needed a match”
And then, everything changed at the end of the fall, “thanks” to the injury of Cade Cunningham, the starting point guard, n° 1 of the Draft in 2021, out until the end of the season. Since then, Killian Hayes has been propelled starter and continues the beautiful performances despite the catastrophic results of the Pistons (12 wins and 35 losses). “I had a complicated start to the season, but I knew that I just needed a match where my shots were going in and that was going to start my season,” commented the person concerned in all sobriety to the media present at the Puma House. , on the Champs-Elysées.
The trigger surely took place against the Mavericks of Luka Doncic – “the hardest player to defend, with his size, his physique and the fact that he plays with his hand” – early December: 22 points, including 14 in the last quarter and overtime. Since the start of the season (despite a complicated month of October), Killian Hayes has averaged 10 pts, 2.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists (14.6 pts and 8 pd since the beginning of January). An unexpected rebound?
I don’t think he doubted, says Malcolm Cazalon, Hayes’ companion in the France youth team and finalist at the U17 Worlds. Killian is a hard worker. When you’re like that, you never lose confidence in yourself and in your game. You shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself and if you start to doubt, that’s where it becomes problematic.
“Never long in difficulty”
During the twenty minutes that he spent in front of the journalists, the words “work” and “trust” also came up repeatedly in the mouth of Killian Hayes : “This mentality of never losing confidence, it is a personal work. When things aren’t going your way, that’s where you have to adapt. You learn a new side of yourself. There were never any doubts. I knew, with the work done all my life and this summer, that it was going to happen. I stayed confident, and even in bad games I knew the shots were going to come in at some point. »
This serenity, this very phlegm, Killian Hayes has always had it on the courts, even when he faced players evolving an age category above, during his training at Cholet. “He’s someone I’ve never really seen in difficulty for a long time,” says François Fiévet, his U18 coach. Each time it increased, he raised his level of play and worked to progress. He had some tough times, but he bounced back very well. »
Whoever tries to “take inspiration from the moves of James Harden, Manu Ginobili or D’Angelo Russel”, thus arrives, during the days without, to renew his game. “Everyone knows that the hardest thing in the NBA is to remain constant, believes Hayes. The goal is to limit bad matches. When the shots don’t come in, that’s when I have to do something else, defend, organize, as a leader, find my teammates for assists. »
When he was at Cholet, he was someone who had a phenomenal speed of adaptation, confirms Fiévet. He was very smart, and as the year went on, being targeted more and more by opponents, he managed to not only be good himself, but also make others better. He is a very selfless player.”
The Pistons staff never let go
Even after his first two complicated seasons, the Pistons staff kept an almost blind faith in his Frenchy. And, according to the principal concerned, this is what also allowed him to stay the course: “The group around me, the general manager and the front office are behind me and have never put a lot of pressure on me. Having a coach and a front office behind you, who pushes you every day, even when things aren’t going so well, helps mentally. »
Malcolm Cazalon, who currently plays Mega Basket in Serbia, also underlines the importance of relatives in the success of Killian Hayes: “The entourage plays a lot in a career, and he knew where he was going, what he wanted to become. He just had to work and everything would follow. Since the youth categories, as soon as he spoke, it was “NBA, NBA, NBA”. His dad played basketball, so I think that was an influence. »
DeRon Hayes, who notably played at Cholet and Nancy, “followed Killian outside of training, remembers François Fiévet. Even after the U18 matches, Killian went with his father to work on his dexterity, his shooting. “We do not know if the father is still present at his side in the training room of the Pistons, but Killian knows it, “I am far from being a perfect player, I still have a lot to learn”. Come on, at work, there are semesters to contribute before retirement.