There’s a certain fire that engulfs Las Positas star guard Michael Hayes when he’s on a basketball court. It’s an energy, an urgency, you do not see in the everyday hooper. Yes, he’s a super athlete who can use his speed and strength advantage. But it’s the way he attacks the rim, like he’s avenging a wrong-doing. He rebounds like a man who hasn’t eaten.
Hayes’ fire comes from a deeper place within himself. Basketball doesn’t ignite this fire. Desperation does. He isn’t just wanting to be the best basketball player. He wants to have the best life, for him and his siblings, the kind of life that wasn’t supposed to be available for them.
“Anybody that has gone through some ups and downs in their youth,” Hawks coach James Giacomazzi said, “A lot of times it gives you a chip on your shoulder to succeed and prove doubters wrong. People can say this is the reason why you won’t be successful. But a lot of times it works in the favor of the student-athlete, giving him a lot of hunger, determination and drive.
“You can line up anybody in California that’s not on our team,” the coach continued, “and I’m going to take Michael.”
Hayes’ life has all the makings of an Oscar winning movie, but this is real life. He was raised in Louisiana in a dangerous area of Baton Rouge. Poverty. Violence. Hopelessness. It’s a wonder he made it to college.
A son of drug addicts, Hayes is a foster kid, a big brother with burden of caring for his siblings, all while 3,000 miles from home.
But he has always had basketball. That’s been his escape, his sanctuary city. It became clear early for Hayes that he had the physical gifts and the skills to ride hoop to a different future. So he’s taking advantage.
His road has not been without turmoil. Instead, full of it. But he’s still on this journey, determined to cash in this golden ticket. So when you see him playing for Las Positas, leading them to the playoffs, know that he isn’t out there just trying to win games. Sure, he want to dominate the opponent. But he’s going so hard because he has something else he must defeat: the odds.
“All this makes me grind harder,” Hayes, 19, said, “I don’t want my siblings to grow up like this. I want to buy a house eventually and take my siblings in.”
Hayes, his parents and three younger siblings were moved to California when Hayes was only 9 years old. The promise of a better job for his dad led them across the country, away from the violence of his hometown. They just wanted better. But everything got worse.
His parents split up. Both parents got hooked on drugs. Hayes and his siblings were forced to enter the foster care system when he was 15 years old.
The four (Michael, Paul, Hanna and Makayla) of them were split up and placed in different homes.
“It sucks,” he said, “not being able to not come home and see your siblings anymore.”
The last couple of years, his siblings have been all over Stockton. They bounced from house to house, caretaker to caretaker. It seemed just when they got comfortable, they’d be moved to a new family to start the acclimation process all over again.
The way Hayes describes it, the system treats the children like puzzle pieces, putting them all over the place trying to find the right fit.
Hayes ended up in a little more of a favorable situation than his siblings. He stayed with one of his good friends, Alfred Henderson. But that ended when him and Henderson’s dad had a falling out before Hayes’ junior year of high school. Hayes got his things and left Henderson’s house at 3 a.m. He then moved in with his former AAU coach Manuel Paz.
“He took me in and did everything he had to do legally so I could stay there,” Hayes said. “I couldn’t even ask more of, they’ve been there since day 1, never turned their back on me. I treat them as Mom and Dad and their kids are my brother and sister. The entire family has love for me.”
The Paz family is a huge reason Hayes is where he is today: stable and a budding basketball star for Las Positas College. But that almost didn’t happen.
Hayes was a football player first. He started playing basketball in the fifth grade, but it didn’t draw him like football. When it came to basketball, as Hayes put it, he sucked.
“I was the dude who would get the steal,” he said, “go 100 miles per hour down the court, and miss right off the backboard. So I sat out a year and went right back to football.”
He was such a gifted athlete that he played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and linebacker. It wasn’t until his dad, then coach Paz, hit him up asking him to give hoop one more shot.
Then it happened. Hayes then fell in love with basketball.
The Paz’s cultivated Hayes’ skills and helped him work to get to where he is today. Manuel Paz Jr., who became an older brother to him, worked with him on his shooting. Paz Sr. taught him how to play big and physical, how to use his strength and athleticism in the paint. Mrs. Paz, she taught him the mental game — focus, strategy, mentality.
Their influence has allowed Hayes to become the player he is today, a budding star finishing his first dominant season for the Hawks.
His arrival has been a boon for the Hawks’ program. He came to Livermore because coach James Giacomazzi had an inside track of getting him to Las Positas. Giacomazzi developed a close relationship with Hayes and the Paz family. So when it was time to pick a school, it was easy.
“Coach James came to my house and we had a meeting there,” Hayes said, “He put a lot of good options on the table and they had a good program so I think I made a good decision. I don’t think I was ready to go to a four-year right away, I still have to mature a lot and grow into a man. So this route is teaching me more how to become a man.”
Hayes best trait might be his selflessness and his ability to be a great teammate.
Giacomazzi said he can score but they want him to be a factor as well defensively and rebounding, and generating ball movement on offense. Even though big scoring numbers could get him the Division I attention he wants, Hayes buys into the system with no hesitation.
Still, he leads the state in scoring and rebounding with 24 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He hopes that his success will carry over to the next level in college and eventually lead him to a successful career professionally, whether that be in the U.S. or overseas. And then he can be a provider for his family.
His relationship with his parents became rocky during the struggle years. But Hayes said he is developing a positive relationship with his father. He hopes one day to do the same with his mother. But the feelings of abandonment and the hole that only a mother can fill leaves the kind of pain that takes time.
“She would come home with bottles smelling like liquor and I didn’t like how she was doing that around my siblings,” Hayes said. “I just had to get away. We just fell out of contact. I haven’t seen her in a couple of years. I’m always here if she wants to do the right thing.”
Basketball has become Hayes’ safe haven. A place where he can get away from the noise in his life.
“I didn’t have an easy life coming up,” Hayes said, “But when I’m on the court I forget about everything. All I worry about is trying to destroy the next dude in front of me. It’s a sanctuary for me.”