Anastasia Hayes left Tennessee’s campus on Sunday with a certainty that she was “home.” So, Hayes called Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick – who was about to board a plane for Atlanta – and committed on her road trip back home.
“I didn’t think I was going to commit,” Hayes said. “But as soon as I came on campus for the tour, it felt like home. I just felt like this is where I need to be.”
That tour included an emphasis on academics – Hayes wants to go to dental school and become an orthodontist – and she saw both a tremendous athletics program and commitment to education.
“The dental program is great, staying in Tennessee, winning basketball program,” Hayes said. “And the fan base is great. I was planning on committing in October, but it felt like home.”
Hayes, a 5-7 point guard from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is a consensus top 10 recruit in the Class of 2017 – and the first verbal for Warlick and her staff in that class. If Hayes has anything to do with it, she soon will have company.
Hayes, who is called Annie, took her official visit to Tennessee this weekend, along with Keke McKinney, a 6-1 wing from Knoxville, who also is considering Kentucky, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Hayes already is talking to McKinney about committing to the Lady Vols.
“I am getting in her ear, but she loves it, too,” Hayes said.
Hayes rattled off a list of players she also would be encouraging to join her at Tennessee, including guards Evina Westbrook of Salem, Oregon, and Dana Evans of Gary, Indiana, and wing Maya Dodson and post Kasiyahna Kushkituah, both of Alpharetta, Georgia.
Perhaps the easiest sale for Hayes will be in her own living room. Her younger sisters also are on the radar of top schools, including Tennessee, and she wants an orange sibling pipeline to Knoxville. Aislynn (Class of 2019) and Alasia (Class of 2020) are Hayes’ teammates at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro. Acasia, who may be the most talented of all four sisters, is a seventh-grader at Christiana Middle School.
There is a lot of time before those signing days arrive - Hayes will ink her LOI this November - but the oldest sister said her siblings should be Lady Vols, too, since they want to play together. Tennessee, along with other SEC schools, have extended offers to the sisters.
Hayes averaged 20.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists last season, leading her team to the Class AAA state title. She also was recruited by Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
The recruiting process began for Hayes in the eighth grade, and she is happy that it’s done.
“I’ve been going through the recruiting process for a long time,” Hayes said. “I feel so much relief now, and I just feel happy.”
That is exactly how Warlick reacted when she took Hayes’ phone call right before she left for Atlanta (presumably for a recruiting trip and home visits).
“We met this morning at breakfast, and she (Warlick) talked to us,” Hayes said. “We left the hotel, and me and my mom and my family were talking in the car and I was like, ‘This is where I need to be.’ My whole family felt the same way.
“I called Holly. She was happy, and she was screaming. She said people were looking at her crazy in the airport.”
Hayes has been so focused on basketball that she has been a passive follower of college football. But after Saturday’s scintillating comeback win over Florida, Hayes is now all Vol.
“I am a Tennessee football fan now,” Hayes said. “That was a great game. Great atmosphere, tailgate before the game, everything was great, the girls, the team, everything.”
Hayes also met JUCO player Fatou Diagne, a 6-4 post from Senegal and freshman at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida. Diagne will have three years of Division I eligibility followed this season at Gulf Coast.
“She is really tall,” Hayes said. “She is real sweet. She said she liked it.”
When asked to evaluate her court strengths – and what she needed to work on before arriving in college – Hayes replied: “I can get to the basket. I love to play defense. I have a lot of heart, so I play hard during the whole game no matter what. I need to work on my pull-up jumper, which I have been working on that, and it has gotten a lot better. And being more vocal and being louder.”
The appeal of staying in Tennessee was another factor in Hayes’ decision. The point guard had her pick of schools – all of her finalists were in the SEC – and the opportunity to be a Lady Vol was too good to pass up.
“It’s my state,” Hayes said. “That is what makes it really special to me and my family.”