COLLEGE PARK — Eric Hayes spent four years at Maryland leading his teammates as a dependable point guard.
Now, he’s following someone else’s path.
Hayes has abandoned his short professional career to become a basketball coach, a role his father, Kendall, thrived in at the high school level for more than two decades.
Hayes is returning as a graduate assistant coach for the Maryland men’s basketball team, the same program he led to three NCAA Tournament appearances and a share of the regular season ACC title in 2010 as a player. Hayes scored 1,201 points during his collegiate career and finished with the sixth-most assists in program history.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon named Hayes a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball program after Hayes re-enrolled at the university as a graduate student over the summer.
Hayes returns to coach at his alma mater following two stints playing professionally overseas. He played in Spain and Lithuania, and then played briefly for the Canton Charge, the NBA D-League affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Although Hayes is just 25-years-old, he wanted to give coaching a shot, like his father.
“I’ve taken reigns over the coaching in the family,” Hayes said. “But [my father] will always be the best coach in the family.”
Kendall was the boys varsity basketball coach at Potomac High School in Dumfries, Va., for 21 years. He led the Panthers to four state championship games and won the Group AAA title in 1995. Kendall also coached his son and Hannah, his daughter, at Potomac.
“Everything I know from basketball came from him,” the Woodbridge, Va., native said of his father. “I really learned everything from him and whenever I have a question that’s who I go to first.”
At an early age, Hayes developed a mind for coaching from his father.
When Hayes was five-years-old, his father promised to watch the ACC Tournament with him when he came home from work. When Kendall got home, he couldn’t find his son. He asked his wife, Nan, who pointed to the TV.
Hayes was already planted in front of it and had been watching the tournament all day long.
Whenever the two watched games together, Hayes would immediately point out when a player wouldn’t fight through a screen or when a defender failed to come off their man to cover the shooter. Hayes would often notice the flaws before the announcers did.
Hayes also served as a manager for his father’s high school team before he was old enough to play on it. Hayes watched his father closely, and learned everything about the game he could.
“He’s always thought like a coach,” Kendall said. “He’s always been that guy who has his head in the game and has always been a coach, just never officially.”
Hayes had earned the respect of some of his future high school teammates by the time he was in the seventh grade. Kendall would allow his team to split into two and choose sides for a shooting drill. The side that lost would have to run sprints.
Hayes, although just in middle school, was always picked first, according to Ian Sumers, who played at Potomac and was Hayes’ summer league teammate.
“Being a point guard, he kind of was a coach on the floor,” Sumers said. “He was a real savvy point guard [and] saw the floor real well.”
Sumers said he was convinced that Hayes wanted to be like his father.
“It was a natural progression,” Sumers said. “His father is basically his best friend. Everywhere coach [Kendall] went, Eric would be right at his hip. Him following like his dad, everyone expected that.”
Outside the game of basketball, Hayes is following his father’s lead too. Hayes is pursuing his master’s degree in education at Maryland to teach, like his father does full time at Potomac.
“He was always inside the school and always around the kids,” Hayes said. “It’s tough to be a coach if you’re not inside the school [as a teacher]… relationships aren’t as close.”
With Hayes’ personality, that won’t be too hard, according to his father.
“There’s something inside them that makes him realize that everybody is important,” Kendall said. “Some people will treat some folks one way and others another [way]. But Eric’s not like that.”
Hayes realizes his playing days are over. But as long as he has his father’s path to follow, Hayes is okay with that.
“He taught me how to be a man,” Hayes said. “He lived the right way, he’s a devoted Christian and so am I. I’ve just learned that lifestyle from him, just to be a good person.”