Illini Showing Interest In Toldeo Forward

The new Fighting Illini basketball staff is beginning to identify and target players who fit their system. Among those who the Illini have contacted is Nigel Hayes, a power forward from Toledo. While not yet a household name, Hayes has the athleticism the Illini seek.

Toledo Whitmer forward Nigel Hayes confirms that Illinois, in the person of assistant coach Dustin Ford, has contacted him since the coaching change.

"Yes, it is true. He showed up to my school one day, and we've had a couple phone calls."

While Ford knew about him previously, his interest increased once he joined head coach John Groce with the Illini.

"He started calling me after he went to Illinois. I haven't really had a chance to develop a relationship with him yet."

Hayes joins a growing chorus of high school prospects interested in the Illini's attacking, pressuring style.

"Yes, I do like that style of play. It's the style of play we use at my high school and with All-Ohio."

The 6'-7", 200 pounder has played center or power forward most of his young career thanks to an early growth spurt. He is working to adapt to a new position. He showed a good high post shot in recent AAU action in Fort Wayne.

"That's something I've been working on, extending my range. It doesn't look like I'll be getting much taller, so I'll be transferring to a wing or small forward. So I've got to work on that. I grew early, so I played post most of the time."

With practice and experience, he feels he can have the best of both worlds on the wing.

"Our offense is predicated on mismatches. If I'm playing against a smaller guard or a smaller team, I go down low. If they have a bigger team with a big guy guarding me, that's when I come out on the wing and go from there."

Of course, it is still a work in progress.

"I want to work on my ball handling and my basic perimeter game. I've got to fine-tune that to get better."

Despite a developing offensive skill set, other parts of his game stand out for him.

"My defense and my rebounding skills are my best assets."

Hayes helped Whitmer to the state title game this past winter.

"We were state runners-up this year in Division I. We graduated five seniors, but I think we should be just as good or better as a team than we were last year."

He has a few offers, but bigger ones may be just around the corner.

"I have offers from Xavier, Toledo, Cincinnati and a couple other mid-majors. Besides Illinois, I'm talking to Wisconsin, Clemson, Tennessee... I can't even remember them all."

Since most of his offers are from Ohio schools, does he prefer to stay in-state for college?

"I don't know right now. I'm not sure yet."

Hayes also has no timetable for making his college decision.

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