Jaxson Hayes’ Rapid Rise to NBA Boosted by Bloodlines in Football and Basketball
LOS ANGELES -- Who’s the best football player in this year's NBA draft?
That question may be of no concern to the 30 teams phoning in their picks to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday night. But considering the type of athletic talent at the top, it makes for a fun parlor ga me.
After all, Zion Williamson looks (and plays) like a defensive lineman who got lost on the way to football practice. Ja Morant drops dimes and makes clutch plays like he’s the Patrick Mahomes of the hardwood. If not for his basketball bloodlines, R.J. Barrett could’ve been a long, lanky receiver streaking down the sideline in the Canadian Football League—or the NFL, for that matter.
The answer to that largely hypothetical trivia question, though, is probably Jaxson Hayes. And, in his case, that capability is more than hypothetical.
Two years ago, the Oklahoma-born, Ohio-raised teenager was splitting time between basketball and football. Now, he’s on the verge of becoming a lottery pick in the NBA draft.
“I just actually like thought about that,” Jaxson tells CloseUp360 when asked about that rapid rise during the BDA Sports Management Pro Day in Los Angeles this past May.
“I mean, it's all pretty crazy,” he adds, “but I just try not to think about it too much.”
Not that Jaxson has had much time to ponder it, even as he’s whipped through the pre-draft process. He spent most of April and early May shuttling between Santa Barbara, where he rehabbed from a knee injury and began draft preparations at Peak Performance Project (P3), and Austin, where he finished up his second semester at the University of Texas so he could remain in good academic standing and return later on to get his degree.
“It's been pretty crazy,” Jaxson says of the pre-draft period. “A lot of travel and stuff like that, but it's all been good. It's all been very fun.”
Jaxson Hayes gave up football to focus completely on basketball just two years ago. (Josh Martin)
In some respects, Jaxson might’ve seemed destined for a future in football.
His father, Jonathan, spent 11 years playing tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, and another 15 coaching tight ends for the Cincinnati Bengals. His uncle, Jay, coached special teams for the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, and was a defensive linemen for the Bengals (including 13 seasons in Cincy with Jonathan) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before spending time as a defensive consultant with the Green Bay Packers. The Hayes brothers will be reunited with the St. Louis franchise of the XFL’s redux—Jonathan as head coach and general manager, Jay as defensive coordinator.
“I'm very excited for him,” Jaxson says of his dad. “I’m hoping it works out a lot better than the [now defunct] AAF.”
Having grown up around the game, Jaxson initially figured pigskin would be where his athletic journey would lead. He played tight end and wide receiver at Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School before a growth spurt—from 6’1" as a freshman to 6’4” as a sophomore to 6’7” as a junior and 6’10” as a senior—cleared up any confusion about which sport he would excel in.
So did his success on the court.
Jaxson went from a backup on the boys’ basketball squad during his junior year to a first-team all-state selection as a senior, when he led Moeller to a school-record 28 wins en route to the Ohio Division I state final.
In between, he blew up on the AAU circuit alongside fellow 2019 draft hopeful Romeo Langford, thanks in part to a big play against this year’s presumptive No. 1 pick. In April 2017, during a matchup in Dallas between his and Romeo’s team (Twenty Two Vision) and Zion’s SC Supreme, Jaxson met the eventual Duke star at the rim for a block and tossed the resulting rebound up the floor to a streaking Romeo for an easy finish.
By the end of that summer, Jaxson had turned a lone scholarship offer from Middle Tennessee State into more than 40, including the one he went on to accept from the University of Texas.
Jaxson's father and uncle were both assistant coaches in the NFL before deciding to join the XFL's St. Louis franchise. (Josh Martin)
In truth, Jaxson’s genes were just as poised to make him a hoops star as a football fan favorite. His mother, Kristi Kinne, averaged 52 points per game as a senior at Jefferson-Scranton High School in Iowa before earning Freshman of the Year and Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors at Drake University. She went on to serve as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Oklahoma, Iowa and Southern Illinois.
Just like his mom, Jaxson was named Freshman of the Year in his conference. And while he didn’t stick around long enough to become the Big 12 Player of the Year, he still managed to nab spots on the All-Defensive team and All-Big 12 second team after averaging 10 points, 5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
That, in itself, was an impressive feat for a teenager who had only eschewed football to focus solely on basketball the year prior.
Jaxson, though, won’t likely be the last of Jonathan and Kristi’s kids to collect those kinds of accolades. His sister, Jillian, is a 6’2” rising senior at Loveland High School (Colorado) whose garnered basketball scholarship offers from a slew of Division I schools, among them the University of Kentucky. And his younger brothers, Jewett and Jonah, are currently in middle school and may well outgrow their current involvement in football, as Jaxson did.
By then, Jaxson might be on his way to NBA stardom. Either way, he’ll have an opportunity to complete his undergraduate education at Texas, though he says he has “no idea yet” as to what his major will be.
That, too, will have to remain hypothetical, for now.
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.