Triumph over Tragedy: Bradley Hayes’ long road ends as a Georgetown graduate

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Life had finally dealt Bradley Hayes a good hand when he got the call.

He had missed his sophomore and junior seasons in high school due to a knee injury that left him with a broken tibia and a dislocated kneecap, but as a senior, the 7-foot Hayes had played well enough at Jacksonville’s Sandalwood HS and on the AAU circuit to draw the attention of Georgetown.

He had a falling out with his father – the man whom he was named after, the man who instilled in him a love for this game – but Brad Jr. had finally reconnected with Brad Sr. before he left Florida for Washington, D.C.

Perhaps most importantly, a kid that had missed his freshman season because of poor academics was taking classes at Georgetown University. When the call came, he was just a few months into a four-year run that was supposed change the trajectory of his family’s life. Hayes’ mother, when the family lived in Rochester, New York, worked multiple jobs to pay the bills and keep a pair of growing boys fed. She did the same after the family relocated to Jacksonville when Hayes was in eighth grade.

It was the middle of October, days before his first official college basketball practices were to start and just weeks before games began. Hayes was in study hall when his phone rang.

“My brother called me,” Hayes said. “Crying.”

His father was dead. “I had just seen him a couple of weeks before,” Hayes said. “To get a phone call like that, it would break anyone.” According to his obituary, Brad Odell Hayes had died at home in his apartment in Jacksonville.

He was just 46 years old.


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Put yourself in Hayes’ shoes for a minute.

His father had passed away unexpectedly. His brother was in the military. He was a three-hour plane ride from home, where his mother, Mary Hayes, was suddenly without the three men she was used to having in her life. Dealing with an empty nest is hard enough for any parent, but having to do so while grieving the loss of someone so close is a nightmare no one should have to live through.

And Hayes knew that. He knew what she was going through. He also knew that he was an unknown recruit on a roster that already included Otto Porter, Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick and Moses Abraham. No one would’ve blamed him for leaving Georgetown to transfer closer to home to a program where he would actually have a chance to play right away.

But that was never an option for Hayes.

Because his mother wouldn’t allow it.

“At the time that I found out my father passed away, the first thing in my mind was to go home and help in any type of way,” Hayes said. “But she made it clear to me that I needed to stay here and focus on what I was doing. Unfortunately something bad happened, but I had to keep pushing forward. Because that’s life. Things happen that you don’t want to happen in life but you can’t put everything on hold just because one thing didn’t go as you expected it to.”

Hayes travelled back to Jacksonville for a few days to mourn. The entire Georgetown coaching staff joined him at the funeral, but when it was done, Hayes had worn out his welcome.

“The day after the funeral, she put me right back onto the plane and said, ‘You’ve got to go back,'” Hayes said.

“He’s got a mom that’s a rock, and I’m sure she was going through probably more psychological, financial, social pressure than he was,” John Thompson Jr., the legendary former Georgetown coach and the father of current head coach John Thompson III, said. ‘Big Coach’, as he’s known within the program, is still involved with the team on a daily basis, and he and Hayes have grown close since Brad Sr.’s death. “She was the one that was stranded pretty much with the father not there, the brother going into the service, he’s coming up here. She had to survive. She’s a lady that was still living in a one room house. It got to the point where he couldn’t go home because there was no room for him to go.”

“I give her a lot of credit for how she wanted to support him psychologically for having to stay up here.”

Georgetown center Bradley Hayes (42) is greeted by John Thompson Jr., right, father of Georgetown head coach John Thompson III, after an NCAA college basketball game against Syracuse, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Washington. Georgetown won 79-72. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Georgetown center Bradley Hayes with John Thompson Jr. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

That support from home mattered. The love he received from the coaching staff and the team helped. But none of it alleviated the pressure, the stress, weighing on Hayes. He was taking college classes for the first time. He was going through college basketball practices for the first time. He was trying to figure out how to go on living his life without his father while 700 miles away from a woman that was struggling just as much as he was.

That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 17-year old.

The most difficult part? Basketball had become a double-edged sword for Hayes.

“I coped with it how I coped with everything: Basketball is my release,” he said. “I just was in the gym all the time, whenever I started feeling sad or any type of way, down on myself, I’d go to the gym. Lifting weights, shooting. Even in the gym just sitting there, it made me feel a lot better.”

But at the same time, basketball is his trigger.

“Every time I pick up a ball I think of him,” he said.

It put head coach John Thompson III in a difficult position. On the one hand, here was a kid that was the perfect candidate for a redshirt. Raw but promising. Stuck at the bottom of the depth chart. Far more valuable as a fifth-year senior than a rookie. A redshirt was the best-case scenario was for Bradley Hayes, the basketball player.

But that’s not what Bradley Hayes, the person, needed.

He needed to be a part of the team, which is why Georgetown burned that redshirt by giving Hayes 14 minutes of action over nine games. Five minutes here, two minutes there, three possessions in another game. These weren’t just garbage time minutes, either. He’d play in the middle of the second half of close games.

“That was part of the decision to play him in some of those games as a freshman,” a source with an understanding of Georgetown’s decision-making process told NBC Sports. “He just needed to play. We thought about redshirting him, but at that point he needed to play. Even if it was a minute here, two minutes here.”

“He needed to be on the court.”


Hayes knew he was going to end up a Hoya the first time he spoke to Thompson III.

It was right after an AAU tournament the spring of Hayes’ senior season in high school. He was with his friends when his cell phone rang.

“He said, ‘This is John Thompson III from Georgetown University,’ and in my mind I was like, ‘Did I hear this wrong?'” Hayes said, laughing as he retold the story in the bowels of the Thompson Center. “I was like, ‘For real?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, this is John Thompson.'”

“He said he wanted me to come [to Georgetown]. I went back and told my parents, and my dad was excited. He was a UNC fan but he knew the importance of going to Georgetown, the type of education you can get here, the history that comes with it. He was like, ‘That’s the place for you to go,’ and I knew right then and there I was going to go Georgetown.”

Basketball is what had helped bring Hayes and his father back together. Brad Sr. had played a little college ball in his day. He had been through the recruiting process, so when Brad Jr. started receiving calls from some of the local programs in the area, he knew it was time to bury the hatchet with his father.

“He’s a man, I was becoming a man, and we just had to get passed it,” Hayes said. “At the end of the day, that’s my father. He gave me life. It was petty for me to hold that grudge against him.”

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 19: Bradley Hayes #42 of the Georgetown Hoyas grabs a rebound against the Xavier Musketeers at Cintas Center on January 19, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Georgetown won 81-72. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Brad Sr. knew that playing for Thompson – who had coached the likes of Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green and Greg Monroe, whose father had coached Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo – would give him a shot at a professional career. But he also knew what getting that degree would mean for his son’s future, and that was more important than anything that happened on a basketball court.

That was the message the father imparted on his son when he sent him off to the nation’s capital, that getting that degree changes his life. It changes the life of his children and their children. Hayes had a modest upbringing, and this was his chance to break the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck.

And that message stuck.

In the last season and a half, Bradley Hayes has been a part-time starter at center for Georgetown. He missed six games at the end of the 2015-16 season due to a broken hand and he was forced to sit out the first four games of this season after the NCAA granted him a waiver for a fifth-year, but he’s played in every other game for the Hoyas during that stretch, starting 34 of them.

But it wasn’t always that easy for the big man to get minutes. After arriving at Georgetown, Hayes would spend three seasons toiling away on Georgetown’s bench. By the time his first senior season began, Hayes had amassed a grand total of 30 points in 134 minutes as a Hoya. He had more DNP-CDs in his career than games that he played in.

He was further removed from his father’s death, and after three seasons of riding the pine, it’s only natural to think about finding a better fit.

That never crossed Hayes’ mind.

“There was never any grumblings about, ‘Oh, I want to transfer,’ and that goes a lot to his character and his upbringing,” Thompson III said. “I think part of that is he understands the value of a Georgetown degree. He understand as much basketball is extremely important to him, at some point, the air is going to come out of the ball. So he values that degree. That’s one of the reasons he came here.”


Hayes went through Senior Night last season. His mom flew up from Jacksonville to attend the ceremony. He received his framed jersey, he got his standing ovation from the Georgetown crowd, he got a proper send off.

As far as Hayes knew, his college career was over.

But Thompson knew that Hayes had a case to get a waiver from the NCAA. He had only played in nine games during that traumatic freshman year – which is the magic number to be eligible for a medical redshirt, and if you think that’s a coincidence I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you – and Hayes was just one semester away from completing his degree.

So Thompson sent in the paperwork. He didn’t tell Hayes he had received the waiver until Hayes was getting ready to go on stage at Georgetown’s postseason banquet.

“When I call you up,” Thompson told him, “you’re going to let everyone else know that you’re not giving a speech. Because you’re coming back next year.”

“Literally 10 minutes before it started,” Hayes said, laughing at the memory. “Coach Thompson told me and just kept on walking.”

Hayes finished his degree during the fall semester, a philosophy major that is now working to complete his minor in Art History. He’s the first person in his immediate family to graduate from college. He’s the first person in his entire family to hold a degree from a university as prestigious as Georgetown.

“It’s not just something personal for myself that I have to do, I think it’s something that I have to do for my family,” Hayes said. “Everyone looks up to me. Uncles, cousins, nephews.”

They’re proud of him, of the man he’s grown into, of the man he’s still learning how to be.

“I’m very proud of him,” Thompson II said, “because I know what he had to deal with. I know a lot of the things that ordinarily I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t gotten close enough to talk with him and deal with him about a lot of things.”

“And it’s not like it’s over. [A parent’s death] is the kind of thing that sticks with you, that you still have to deal with, and there are other hardships that are involved with that. But he’s got people that respect who he is as a person enough to give him the support that he needs. And he’s got a mom that’s a rock.”

And because of it, he now has that Georgetown degree, too.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.