The long, winding road to WSU for Hayenga

FORMER EASTLAKE HIGH STANDOUT Keaton Hayenga knows about adversity. One of the hottest pitchers in the Northwest in 2006-07, Hayenga signed with WSU but never made an appearance for the Cougs. Five years later, following shoulder surgery, a $300K contract and four years in the minor leagues, Hayenga, 24, has arrived in Pullman to begin his Wazzu career. But it won't be on the baseball diamond.

After an impressive 2011 season on the hardwood with Bellevue College, the 6-5, 209-pound junior-to-be arrived in Pullman on June 16 as the newest WSU basketball walk-on for Ken Bone.

Hayenga landed at Bellevue last season after retiring from the Kansas City Royals farm system. He made a quick transition to hoops, leading the Bulldogs with 17.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 62.4 percent from the floor.

"It was a great experience for me," Hayenga said. "It was an adjustment trying to get back into basketball shape but it was really smooth. I learned a lot there trying to catch up on my basketball skills."

A career in basketball with the Cougars sure didn't seem like an option five years ago.

DURING HIS TIME at Eastlake, pro baseball scouts were huddled in the stands behind home plate with radar guns at the ready, measuring a fastball that topped off in the low-to-mid 90s.

But a game into his senior season, Hayenga tore his labrum sliding into first base. Following surgery, his baseball future was suddenly in doubt. The injury was significant enough that Hayenga thought his dreams of making it to the major leagues were dashed. Then Kansas City called.

The Royals had selected Hayenga in the 31st round, offering him a $300,000 signing bonus. Rather than heading to Pullman for his freshman season, he hopped a plane for Surprise, Ariz. to the Royals spring training facility.

"The day I signed was amazing because after I got hurt, I didn't think I would get drafted or have the opportunity to play ball," Hayenga said. "When it came, I was thankful the Royals were willing to take a risk on me. It was a special day."

Over the next two years, Hayenga spent the majority of his time rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulder and didn't pitch competitively for 26 months. He made his pro debut in 2009 for the Burlington Royals in North Carolina and finished the season with a 3.66 earned run average.

His success was short-lived. In 2010 with the Burlington Bees, he finished with a record of 3-12 and a 6.13 ERA. That turned out to be his last full season in the minors. Hayenga re-injured his shoulder after a 1-1 start with the Kane County Cougars. After returning to Arizona for rehab, Hayenga, after talking it over with his family, made the difficult decision to hang up his cleats.

"I saw three different doctors and they each said something different -- and that was unnerving not knowing what was wrong," Hayenga said. "There was no definitive answer. With all those question marks, it felt like best option was to be done."

HAYENGA MOVED BACK to Sammamish, enrolled at Bellevue College and joined the basketball team.

He hadn't played competitive ball since averaging 23 points per game his senior season at Eastlake in ‘07. Yet in his first and only season with the Bulldogs, he lit up the court as if it were his playground.

His season caught the eye of the WSU coaching staff, particularly then-assistant coach Jeff Hironaka. Hironaka, who is now the Cougars Director of Player Personnel and Special Assistant to the Head Coach, heavily recruited Hayenga back in 2006-07 when he was the head coach at Seattle Pacific University.

"I knew at the Division-II level he'd be a power forward and I saw great potential in him," Hironaka said in a phone interview with CF.C. "I understood it would be tough for him to pass up a pro (baseball) career after getting drafted, but I thought he could be All-league or an All-American type (basketball) player."

Years later, Hironaka found himself recruiting Hayenga again. Hironaka said he stayed in constant communication with SPU head coach Jeremy Eggers, and received positive insight into Hayenga's character and on-court skills. It led to an unofficial visit in April, where the staff was sold and extended the walk-on invitation.

"Having played professional sports already, he knows what you can and can't do," Hironaka said. "He can be a good guy for the younger kids in the program. He can help guys with maturity and he's the kind of kid Bone wants in the program. He's a good kid, a good student and a high quality person. He has all the traits that can make him a good addition to the team."

HIRONAKA SAID he anticipates Hayenga spending much of his first season with the scout team. With BC, Hayenga played both power forward and center, but will be more of a small forward type player for the Cougars. Hironaka said with plenty of hard work, the Sammamish native has the tools to make a difference.

"Obviously it's going to take him another year to make the transition from junior college to the Pac-12," Hironaka said. "There's going to be guys who are more athletic and it will be an adjustment for him. But he's a very high riser and has a good shot. He's very mature and you don't have to tell him what to do more than once."

Hayenga said he isn't focused on being the next superstar for WSU. He looks at his arrival to Pullman as an opportunity to fulfill his dreams of getting a college degree in sports management and having the privilege to don a WSU jersey for the next few years.

"I think I've been tremendously blessed and this opportunity is really cool," Hayenga said. "I wish I hadn't faced the injuries but I feel everything in life happens for a reason and a major league baseball career wasn't meant for me. I wouldn't trade the experiences I had for anything and I'm happy to be at Washington State."

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