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Feb. 12, 2010
By Bill Hass
Anyone who watches the Terps play is immediately drawn to the lava flow - the passion, emotion and flair of Greivis Vasquez, the player who makes them go.
It's easy to overlook Hayes, a lean, angular guard - that is, until he launches a picture-perfect 3-pointer that swishes cleanly through the net.
Hayes and Vasquez provide a senior backcourt that has helped push Maryland to a 6-2 record in the ACC and 16-6 mark overall. It's a ride that few observers saw coming - other than the Terps themselves.
"I think we're finally just starting to click as a team," Hayes said. "I don't think anybody is surprised because I think everybody on the team knows how hard we worked in the summer to get to this point. We've started to build our team and have been playing better and better as the year has gone on, just being more comfortable with the different lineups we have on the floor."
With 50 percent of their ACC schedule behind them, the Terps face a perilous second half that begins with a game Saturday at first-place Duke (8-2). That's followed by a quick turnaround when they return home to face Virginia Monday night in a game that was postponed from Wednesday because of the two massive snowstorms that hit the Washington, D.C., area.
So Maryland has had to stifle the adrenaline that was building while preparing to play Virginia and shift gears to a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"It's always crazy when you play in Cameron," Hayes said. "Arguably they've got the best home court in the nation. They have a very good team this year with a lot of good guards and they're playing well. (Jon) Scheyer, (Nolan) Smith and (Kyle) Singler, who's playing the three (small forward) now, they can all shoot the ball.
"You've got to be able to run your offense (against Duke). They get out and pressure you and make you play faster than you want to, they try to deny passing lanes. If we can stay tough and just try to run our offense and be patient on offense, that's a big key. Also, they do a really good job of rebounding, their big guys are athletic, and we have to keep them from getting second shots."
As good as Scheyer and Smith have been scoring for Duke, Vasquez and Hayes have been just as important in the backcourt for Maryland. North Carolina coach Roy Williams, while diplomatically declining to give the edge to either duo, said Hayes and Vasquez are in "a very short discussion" of the best guard combination in the league.
"They fit so well because Greivis is such an up-and-down, full-court player," Williams said, "and Eric gives them a little stability and maybe doesn't do as many wacko things - and I mean that in a good way. But they're just so productive and they're good defensively. They're probably opposites in their personality a little bit and that might be good for their whole team and program, too."
That's where the cool river and lava flow come in. Maryland coach Gary Williams said he likes having different personalities and this team is no exception.
"When things are going crazy, it's nice to have Eric, who's kind of laid back," Williams said. "And then when things are a little flat you have Vasquez or Sean Mosley that kind of really get into things and that helps us."
Hayes said he and Vasquez have always gotten along well. They both know the game and the number of minutes they've played together in four seasons has built a solid relationship on the court.
"Every now and then he may get a little too emotional," Hayes said, "but that's his game, that's what makes him the player that he is. So I don't try to get in the way of that too much because when he's showing a lot of emotion that's usually when he's playing his best basketball."
On the flip side, Hayes maintains an even-keel disposition, a style which works best for him.
"He's a competitor," Maryland's Williams said. "He just doesn't show it like Greivis does or some of our other players. He's more workmanlike in his game. I think a lot of people mistake that for not being aggressive, not being a competitor. But he is all those things and it's a great counter to some of the other guys on our team."
Hayes said his demeanor is similar to wearing a mask and he doesn't care what it might look like to some people.
"I've still got the same amount of the passion, the drive to compete, as someone like Greivis, who pretty much shows it as an outward expression," Hayes said. "I'm as competitive as anybody out there and I think I have a great amount of passion for playing and competing, just a different way of showing it. I just try to go out there and play my heart out."
That style translated into a solid career over his first three seasons, progressing in scoring from 4.8 to 9.9 to 10.3. His shooting percentages and assist totals were steady.
This season, Hayes is averaging 11.1 points, shooting 48.8 percent overall, 46.1 percent from 3-point range and 91.9 percent at the free throw line - all career highs. He can handle the ball and run the team when Vasquez is off the court or, just to change things up, when Vasquez is off the point.
Within ACC play, Hayes is shooting an eye-opening 51.4 percent behind the arc. He knocked in 4-of-5 from there in Maryland's win over North Carolina. Williams said last year's change that moved the 3-point line one foot back (to 20 feet, 9 inches) did not bother Hayes because that's where he has always shot the ball.
"He just has a comfort zone in his shot and he's very selective," Williams said. "He doesn't take a lot of shots like some really good 3-point shooters do. He's pretty open, usually, when he shoots and hopefully he can continue to get open."
Hayes said he never shot the 3-pointer right at the line, so there really wasn't an adjustment.
"What a beautiful shot," said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. "Hardly any wasted motion, quick release. He can stretch you (defensively), he's a good decision-maker with his assist-to-turnover ratio, obviously percentage-wise from the 3 and from the free throw line. He just understands the game and his role and he's a great complement to Vasquez. So he's a threat and you could see that against North Carolina."
Hayes played for his father, Kendall Hayes, at Potomac High School in Woodbridge, Va., and it was his dad who taught him how to shoot.
"He basically just (taught me) the textbook form, having the L shape on your shooting hand, having your left hand guide the ball," Hayes said. "When I was little he used to lower the basket for me so I could keep my form correct and not stand there and heave the ball up to the basket.
"He eventually moved the basket up to where I was strong enough to shoot with the correct form at the 10-foot rim. That was a big thing for me, keeping the form until I was strong enough to get it up there."
Hayes said his father can still spot errors in his mechanics, even during warm-ups, so if Hayes hits a slump it doesn't take long to fix it. The bond has remained strong, and the two talk virtually every day.
"When I was little I was always at practices, learning the game, the different nuances of the game," Hayes said. "Being the son of a coach really helps the IQ part of your game."
Naturally, coaching is something Hayes wants to look into after his playing career is over. Right now, he's concentrating on keeping the Terps at or near the top of the ACC.
"We usually don't have too tough a time scoring points," Hayes said, "but if we're not playing defense people can beat us that way. Just defensively and rebounding are the two biggest things in the second half of the season."
And, of course, continuing his own contributions.
"I've been working hard trying to be a scoring threat for us as well as setting people up with assists, trying to rebound as well, play a good overall game," Hayes said. "I just want to be able to knock down shots when I have the opportunities. So far I've been shooting the ball well and I'll try to continue that.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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