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Hayes: From Injury-Prone to Ironman?

It’s not easy being back-up to an ironman. Ask Jarvis Hayes, who spent last season as the backup to Tayshaun Prince. The Pistons' all-star hasn’t missed a game in more than five seasons.

It’s not that Hayes didn’t play. It’s that he didn’t play much. He got into all 82 games, but played only 15.7 minutes per. And it’s not that he didn’t benefit from his tour in Detroit. He played on a team that went to the conference finals, improved his defense (a bit) and had his best season shooting wise since he’s been in the league...even if in limited minutes.

And most of all, he proved he can be somewhat of an ironman too. After missing 89 games in the second and third seasons of his career due to knee injuries, Hayes has missed only one game the last two seasons, even with screws in his knee.

With his durability, Hayes gets a chance to show what he can do when healthy, when ready, when confident. At the same time, he has to prove that his promise wasn't torn away in surgery on his right knee. He can still play, still shoot, as proven by his 29-point, 7-three game last season, but it’s been a long haul and questions remain about what he's lost in mobility.

"My second year, me and Manu Ginobili bumped knees. It cracked open, and never completely healed - fractured kneecap," he explains. He should have had surgery then. He didn’t.

"It was a mistake," he says. "Because I tried to let it heal by itself and it didn't; and 21 games into my third year, it opened back up. That's when I decided to have surgery. It has two pins in it now."

The surgical screws are each about a half-inch long, and so far so good. He's missed only one game in the last two years.

Hayes is as confident about himself and his new team.

"Now I'm healthy,' says Hayes, who signed a two-year LLE deal, $4 million with the second year guaranteed. "But I haven't found the right role for me. I am fully healed--no recurring injuries and I'm looking forward to the opportunity.

"I think we have an opportunity to win," he adds. "Winning, it trumps any personal goals or anything like that. The opportunity to win is one that stood out, but also the opportunity to play more."

Indeed, Hayes can be counted among Kiki Vandeweghe’s "fallen angels". He is still only 27 and a character guy. And like Bobby Simmons, Keyon Dooling, Eduardo Najera and to a lesser degree, Yi Jianlian, he has something to prove. Each of them was dumped unceremoniously by their former team and in the case of Hayes as well as Dooling and Najera, the Nets were offering more than anyone else. The Spurs had some interest in Hayes, but nothing as firm as the Nets.

Playing with the Pistons was valuable, he notes, not just to him, but to his new teammates. Detroit has a record of winning, as well as team play and sacrifice.

"Hopefully my first couple of days of camp I can rub off on some of the younger guys that haven't had the type of success that I had last year with Detroit," Hayes said. "Kind of rub off and tell them it's hard work getting to where we are. I guess that's leadership in a way because I guess I'm one of the elder statesmen."

Hayes, like Brook Lopez—and Brett Yormark, is a twin. He was born five minutes ahead of his twin brother, Jonas. Jonas is an assistant coach at South Carolina State University. After a stellar high school career in Atlanta, he—and Jonas—enrolled first at Western Carolina, where he became the first freshman in 40 seasons to lead the Southern Conference in scoring. In fact, he holds the rare, if not unique, distinction of having led two different conferences in scoring while in college.

After a year, they moved on to Georgia, where he was named First Team All-SEC in both his sophomore and junior years Georgia, becoming the first Bulldog to be so honored since Dominique Wilkins in 1981-82. He also stepped up in big games, averaging 28.5 points per game in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

All of that vaulted him in the lottery in 2003 (CK), where he was taken at #10. Standing next to him that night was Jonas…and unlike Brook Lopez, there was no NBA interest in his twin brother.

"I think the longest we've been apart is a week," said Hayes back then. "We've never really been apart. He's standing next to me right now and, believe it or not, we were just talking about how this will be the first time we've never played together.

"It's definitely going to be hard. I knew this day was coming and it is finally here."

His college coaches remarked on how close the two were, in ways that non-twins can’t understand.

"When Jonas dislocated his finger his first year with us, Jarvis claimed he felt the pain," then Georgia coach James Holland said. "When Jarvis hurt his knee, Jonas said his knee hurt, too. These two are unbelievably close."

His job with the Wizards was simple: to back up Jerry Stackhouse, to come in off the bench and provide that deep range.

The Wizards were so high on him, he was asked to write a rookie diary.

In light of where he is now, his first entry, written in preseason, is ironic.

"I got to play against one of my favorite players in Vince Carter which was fun not only to go up against him, but to watch him as well," Hayes wrote. "This was the first time that I have seen him play in person and to be on the same court with him was definitely somewhat shocking, but those are things that I am going to run into the whole season.

"I talked to him a little bit after the game and he told me to keep my head up and keep playing hard. He said that he liked my game and looked forward to watching me get better. Hearing that from him was definitely gratifying because it tells me that I am on the right track to being the player I want to be. To see that a player like Vince noticed that helps me because everyday is a learning process for me and I just want to get better."

Early on, he looked like a lottery pick. Hayes was averaging 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds through the first three games of the season. Within a month, he was already mentioning the "rookie wall", which seemed a bit early. "Right now, I haven’t hit the ‘rookie wall’", he wrote. "I don’t know what it will be like if I do hit it, but if do, I’ll fight through it."

Another month and he sat at the base of the wall, a bit tired.

"At this point, 24 games into the season, as a rookie there is a definite adjustment to make to the NBA schedule. I don’t want to say that I’m affected by it, but it is definitely different. If I was in college, after 24 games I would be getting ready for the SEC Tournament. But here, we are not even two months into a long season. It is definitely different. I am going to pace myself. I’m going to get in the weight room a little bit more, and I’ll fight through it."

With the Wizards already without Gilbert Arenas and Stackhouse, he was needed and he was starting to get playing time, even as a starter.

By the All-Star break, Hayes had made the Rookie-Sophomore challenge and went out to LA as the Wizards’ only representative at All-Star Weekend. By season’s end, he had made through a tough season and sported some solid numbers in spite of missing 12 games with various injuries. In that rookie season, he had averaged 9.6 points while making 42 starts and playing an average of 29.2 minutes. In a draft class that featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Hayes was seen as a steal.

Then, in his second season, he was doing well, filling in for Larry Hughes, averaging 10.2 points a game, until a fateful night in February when he and Ginobili bumped knees. A few games later, Hayes went up for a dunk against the Kings and when he came down, his knee had split completely open. Season over, career threatened. For a year, he hoped things would get better, as he noted, without surgery. Although he won’t blame the Wizards’ medical staff, others have. "He took the high road for what seems to be a poor diagnosis by the Wizards medical staff after the initial fracture," wrote the Washington Post’s Michael Lee last year.

He put his time to good use. He hosted a weekly radio segment on WTOP during the his down time, in which he reviewed local area restaurants with Washingtonian Magazine Food Critic Tom Head. He also ballooned to 245 pounds. Occupational hazard.

The next season, he was still hoping for the best, but another game, this one in preseason at Wake Forest, made him realize he and the Wizards had made a mistake. On October 13 Hayes scored 18 points in the first half of a preseason matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Tobacco Road. But later that night, as the Washington Times reported, Hayes was horrified at the aftermath.

"His right knee, which forced him to miss a third of the 2004-05 season after he fractured his kneecap, swelled through the night. Hayes, named the starting off guard by Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, missed the remainder of the preseason but didn't let the injury discourage him."

Finally, on December 16, 2005, he had to leave a Laker game. The knee had fractured again and again his season was over. On February 14, 2006, he had the long-delayed surgery with the pins.

He played his third season in Washington without incident. After missing 89 games because of his knee, he was able to play 81 games, but he wasn’t the same player, according to the Wiz…and Lee.

"Hayes never could find his stroke, never could justify Eddie Jordan's faith in him last season," Lee wrote of Hayes 2006-07 season. "Eddie stayed in his corner, sometimes to a fault. After all, Eddie drafted him after falling in love with his jump shot at his pre-draft workout.

The Wiz had had high hopes for him but after Hayes had his worst season as a pro, they decided not to give him a qualifying offer. He had played 81 games, but only averaged 7.2 points, shot only 41% overall, but better than 36% from the three and 84.5% from the line. In the Wizards injury plagued first round loss to the Cavs, he had started all four games, averaging 10.5 and 3.5 but shot only 32.6%. While Hayes still had the ability to make his trademark off-balance jump shots, he seemed to shy away from contact. From filling the lanes on the fast break as a healthy rookie to settling for shots on the perimeter, Hayes’ career with the Wiz had nose-dived. He still had some good games, like the 29 point effort in the famous double triple-double overtime loss to the Nets in April 2007. (That was the game where Carter had 46 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.)

He signed for the vets’ minimum with the Pistons last year and a similar season, with the big minutes, thanks to the healthy Mr. Prince. He averaged 6.7 points in only 15.7 minutes, improved on his shooting numbers, and had that one great game. Again, it was a 29-point effort and again, it was late in the season. Like the Wizards, the Pistons weren’t interested in re-signing him. The Nets, on the other hand, gave him a raise. Instead of the vets' minimum of $1.2 million, Hayes was going to get $1.9 million.

One reason might be that character issue. The Post’s Lee admitted to suspending objectivity a bit with Hayes, writing on the day he signed with the Pistons: "I know as sportswriters, we have to be objective, but there are some people that you generally like to see have some success - which made it especially hard to see Hayes's career in Washington finish the way it did…

"Before he was drafted, I never saw him making it to the NBA, but he worked his tail off to get here. He's always been a real, humble, down-to-earth person, a nice, ‘yes, sir/no, sir’ kind of guy who never seemed to be caught up in the NBA life - with the exception of a few nice cars and some flashy jewelry he purchased before his rookie season. I remember someone telling me how they sat next to him once on an AirTran flight and had no idea he was in the NBA until he reluctantly let it slip. I was more impressed that he was a millionaire looking for cheap airline deals. And how did he fit into those seats?"

Hayes also has his own foundation and while with the Wizards and Pistons, he spent a lot of time on community work, including helping the homeless, aiding victims of Hurricane Katrina and working and mentoring children.

The question now, of course, does he have anything left athletically? Bobby Simmons is in the same situation with suspect foot injuries and the two of them are the most likely candidates to fill the shooting forward job now that Richard Jefferson is in Milwaukee.

John Hollinger has his opinion and it is harsh: "New Jersey enters the year with Simmons and Hayes battling for the starting small forward gig; whoever wins will immediately become one of the league's worst starters.

"There's Hayes, who is up and down as a shooter and brings little else to the table. Detroit gave up on him after a year because of his defensive shortcomings -- he's had multiple knee injuries and they appear to have compromised his movement some."

Hayes didn’t play in Saturday’s open scrimmage. He sat out because of a hamstring pull. A week ago, he and Stromile Swift bumped knees, but as Hayes pointed out, it was his good knee, and it held up fine.

Nets’ fans have to hope his luck continues.