Andy Dalton ranked as TCU’s top recruiter for Jaxson Hayes.
Dalton had an inside track to Hayes, pitching him every time he visited his dad, Jonathan, the Cincinnati Bengals tight ends coach from 2003-18.
“Whenever I went to the stadium, Andy would always talk to me,” said Hayes, who ended up going to Texas.
“All the guys were always pitching their colleges to me, but Andy definitely pitched TCU the most out of all the players.”
So ... why couldn’t Dalton close the deal?
“Uh, I don’t know,” Hayes said, smiling. “I just felt like Texas was the right fit for me.”
That’s hard to argue now. Hayes earned Big 12 freshman of the year honors, averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in 31 games, including 20 starts.
At 6-foot-11, Hayes has developed into a post presence on both ends of the floor and has NBA written all over him. But Hayes isn’t ready to talk about a professional career yet.
“I honestly don’t know what I’m doing yet,” said Hayes, who is projected as a first-round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft.
“After the season, I’m going to talk to my parents, talk to my coaches, pray a lot and then figure out an answer.”
For the time being, Hayes is focused on trying to get Texas (16-15) into the NCAA Tournament. The first step for the Longhorns would be knocking off No. 17 Kansas in the Big 12 tournament Thursday night.
Hayes had 13 points and nine rebounds in Texas’ win over Kansas on Jan. 29 in Austin, and is coming off a game in which he scored a season-high 19 points against TCU.
Texas is at its best when Hayes is active and attacking the rim.
“When he rolls hard, it just opens up a lot because teams have adjusted, they don’t want Jaxson to get lobs or dunks,” Texas sophomore guard Matt Coleman III said. “When he rolls hard to the rim, it attracts help and now Jase [Febres] gets open shots and now there’s driving lanes. It’s just a lot to deal with.”
Hayes’ journey to a possible one-and-done is quite remarkable. Just two years ago, as a junior at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hayes averaged one point and six minutes a game.
Then he turned into a first-team all-state player his senior season, drawing offers from a number of programs, including TCU.
“Andy Dalton told us about him … Andy couldn’t get it done, so we’ll blame him,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said, laughing. “But you could just see he was going to be a great player.”
Hayes isn’t surprised by his quick rise in the sport, and credited Texas coach Shaka Smart and associated coach Darrin Horn for his improvement throughout the season.
Smart pointed to Hayes’ mindset and being “coachable” as the key to turning a prospect nobody felt would be one-and-done coming out of high school into a potential first-round pick. After all, Hayes wasn’t even ranked in the Top 100 prospects in his class by 247Sports.
“One thing that’s helped him is he didn’t necessarily come in with any sense of entitlement or ‘I’ve arrived,’” Smart said. “He’s really wanted to work and improve and learn and respond to tough days.”
Now Hayes is hoping to shine in the same city his dad did.
Jonathan Hayes spent the first nine years of his NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs, becoming one of the more reliable tight ends in the league and starting 95 of 136 games played before finishing his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jaxson has heard stories about his dad’s playing days, and his entire family will be in KC for the tournament. He just hopes they get to see him and his teammates more than once.
“I feel excited,” Hayes said. “I know the rest of the guys feel excited because no one is really counting on us. We have nothing to lose. We’re just going to go out there and play our hardest and play with nothing to lose.”