Maryland Basketball Guard Eric Hayes Finds His Niche

North Carolina's Ty Lawson may be a star, but Maryland's Eric Hayes found his way around in Saturday's upset.
North Carolina's Ty Lawson may be a star, but Maryland's Eric Hayes found his way around in Saturday's upset. (By Rob Carr -- Associated Press)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Even Maryland Coach Gary Williams was surprised at who ended up tossing the ball toward the rafters as time expired Saturday in a win over North Carolina, then the No. 3 team in the nation.

Williams turned around and asked one of his assistants a question that has taken on several contexts in recent weeks: Was that Eric?

Junior guard Eric Hayes -- the same player who kept his consternation to himself when he was pulled from the starting lineup last month, the same shooter whose stat line recently has made up for the attention his persona does not draw on the court -- grabbed the loose ball and hurled it as high as he could. He had never done that before, he said afterward.

When Maryland (17-9, 6-6 ACC) hosts No. 7 Duke (22-5, 8-4) tonight at Comcast Center, Hayes likely will not start. He likely will not elicit rave reviews for his performance. But what he is expected to do -- provide a pacifying influence off the bench -- might prove just as crucial in improving the Terrapins' chances for an upset.

"The good thing about Eric is you know what you're going to get," Williams said. "He's a very consistent, steady player, and you need some guys like that. Other players can be up and down, but I think Eric's been pretty consistent over the course of the year."

That task was made more difficult in the days leading up to Maryland's Jan. 31 home contest against Miami. Unlike the first 20 games of the season, Hayes learned he would not start against the Hurricanes. Williams later said he felt Hayes needed "a different look" and thought coming off the bench would allow Hayes to enter the game more relaxed.

Hayes was disappointed, as most other players in a similar situation would be. But he remained plain, understated, positive.

"It's just something that the whole team looks at me to be a stable, steady influence on the rest of the guys," Hayes said in December.

The way Kendall Hayes tells it, his son's approach to competition hasn't changed much over the years. When Eric used to play soccer, Kendall said, he was known for making long crossing passes that had a tendency to drop right at his teammates' feet.

"He just always had the ability to kind of see things," Kendall said.

Coaching Eric at Potomac (Va.) High never grew complicated, Kendall said, because his son always acted on necessity. His first few seasons, Eric deferred to two older, more accomplished players. But by the end of his prep career, Eric was the school's all-time leading scorer. He adjusted, Kendall said, based on what best would help the team succeed. Potomac went 100-9 during Eric's four years.

"If you've got a point guard that's very unselfish, knows how to play the game, knows what to do and when to do it, other kids recognize that he's got their best interests in mind, as well," said Kendall Hayes, who has coached basketball and taught at Potomac since the 1980s.

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