White isn’t quick to go too far in his adoration of his players, but when he talks about Kevarrius Hayes, it is always with the thought that the kid is the hardest worker in the room and true coaches dream to coach. Hayes consistency in his play and practice habits paid off against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Gators’ big win.
“I think he matched up a little bit better, to be honest,” White said. “With their size and his size, they’re pretty similar. I think there are certain games where he’s asked to wrestle with a guy who outweighs him by 20 or 30 pounds at times, the pace of the game I think was a factor for him in that we were able to get out in transition a little bit, in space with him and Kasey Hill where he converted. He just had a really good game. I think those were a couple of factors. The fact that he just continues to keep his nose to the grindstone, be a consistent worker and we talked about it after the game, he kind of falls into baskets at time while he’s focused on really important things other than scoring. And that’s refreshing to see from him.”
Leave it to the always smiling Hayes to downplay his big night.
“I just played a good game, I guess, just playing hard." “It was good. I felt like I was really helping out. I didn't even realize how well I was doing until like later in the game."
The Gators beat a major basketball program on the road, one that was in the Final Four a year ago and did so in convincing style 84-52 with Hayes leading the way from the bench. This followed the smashing of SEC foe LSU on the road by a 106-71 score.
“It feels good,” Hayes said. “Not only because we won, but because of how well we played together both games at LSU and Oklahoma. It was just the guy, all of us together, just knowing we're just out here to play the game we love and (we) played it very well."
Hayes, who routinely comes off the bench and did so in his big game against the Sooners, always seems to adapt to what is going on. He was inserted in the starting lineup for three games with an injury to junior John Egbunu and played well then back again.
From a military family, he was used to moving around a lot. That kind of uncertainty has shaped his mental state and now he has learned to jus adapt to things easily.
“I think in a way it probably has. It kind of helped my… like I used to be able to move around a lot and now that I have a place to call home,” he said about growing up. “Basically I work harder to prove that I belong here in a way and that probably helps me with being at Florida.”
Hayes was a youngster when he moved to Live Oak, Florida and became a big fan of the Gators’ 04’s that won back-to-back national championships. That certainly played a part in him wanting to come to Florida under Mike White, and he finally was able to roost for a while, even if it was without his mother.
“In seventh grade and I stayed there until I graduated luckily,” he said about his time in Live Oak. “I had to talk to my coach about moving in with him because my mom went overseas again. It was like a second home. I stayed with them for that whole time.”
A popular student in high school, he was the class president every year at Live Oak. Again, his modesty made him blow off the popularity.
“I am pretty sure basketball helped,” he said with the media in attendance laughing with him. “Everybody knew me because I was really good on the basketball team. I ran for election and the popular vote came in because everyone thought I was a nice guy.”
“I remember the first campaign I ran I had to include the name ‘Too Tall’ because nobody knew my (real) name.”
Hayes thinks he learned some his leadership and discipline qualities from being a leader in high school.
“Definitely… I think being a people person,” he said. “I know how to talk to people. I used to not have to know everyone, but at least know something about them especially in my senior class and just about everyone’s name.”
He’s had a career game on the road and his team seems to play better on the road this year. Now they have to come home and face a Missouri team that is winless in the SEC, but one that plays rough under the basket.
It’s all in a day’s work for Hayes.
“I’m pretty sure coach is going to have us some drills working on keeping up our physicality, making sure we're not losing our edge,” he said. “That's probably definitely going to help playing against a very competitive team like Missouri."
He knows his team has to play better at home where they lost the last game and went into overtime previously as well.
“I guess it's trying to filter out distractions, focusing on the person next to you, your teammates, the people who are actually on the floor with you instead of like trying to impress the crowd -- because everybody loves the crowd,” he said. “It's just trying to focus on our job."
And if that wasn’t enough to think about, there is the issue of playing the SEC king in Kentucky just a couple of days beyond the Thursday matchup with Missouri. He admits that the contest with the Wildcats has crossed his mind some.
“A little bit, but trying not to think too far ahead,” he said. “I mean we do have Missouri right in front of us.
“It’s mostly focusing on us, making sure we stay true to ourselves, keep doing what we're doing, don't change anything depending on whether it's the worst team or the best team we're playing against. Just play the way we know how and everything will work out."