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Hayes is France's superhero in disguise
PODGORICA (FIBA U16 European Championship 2017) - On the court at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017, Killian Hayes flashes his speed, hang time and ability to be a hero in the clutch. Off the court, France's combo guard dons glasses and seems quiet and reserved. It makes you wonder if Hayes isn't wearing a shirt with a big S under his French jersey.
While the 16-year-old French talent might not be Superman or his alter ego Clark Kent, Hayes certainly can wow observers with his impressive skillset.
Hayes has done a bit of everything at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2017, leading France in scoring (15.0), rebounds (6.6), assists (5.8) and steals (3.2) including a near triple-double against Sweden in helping France reach the Semi-Finals as the only undefeated team.
The 6ft 4in (1.92m) guard is a calming influence with the ball in his hands in half-court action with both his passing skills and penetration and finishing abilities. Hayes also can get out and run and finish above the rim.
Deuxième match et deuxième victoire difficile des U16 🇫🇷 63-61 face à la Russie. Killian Hayes le sauveur— Grunfeld 💀 (@falckovitch93) August 12, 2017
But he also has displayed his knack for heroics.
Against Italy in the first game, Hayes collected four points, a rebound and one steal as France reeled off a 10-0 run in the final five minutes to win 64-59, with Hayes hitting two free throws with nine seconds left to ice the game.
A day later, Hayes topped that against Russia with 10 points, two rebounds and an assist and steal in a 15-4 run over the final five minutes in a 63-61 victory. He made 4-of-5 free throws down the stretch and also went coast to coast for the win.
After a comfortable win over Estonia to finish Group Phase play, Hayes collected 13 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks in a 73-68 win over Sweden in the Round of 16. He added 12 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals against Turkey in the Quarter-Finals.
"It feels great and now we just need to work hard to get that win and win this tournament," said Hayes after getting France into the Semi-Finals for the first time since winning the title in 2014.
"Representing my country is a big honor. I also am representing all the people who wish they could be in my place right now. I just try to go hard every time."
Basketball has always been part of Hayes' life. His father DeRon Hayes is an American who played more than 20 years in Europe, mostly in France.
"My dad just gave me a basketball and I started dribbling and I liked it. I had my first hoop and just played all day, all night," Hayes said.
He began bouncing the ball at the first time around 2-years-old, and he always used to attend the games from his father, who still plays in France's lower leagues at age 47.
"I was always in my corner just dribbling. I wasn't even really watching him. I was just dribbling," Hayes described.
The younger Hayes, who was born in his father's U.S. hometown of Lakeland, Florida, knew early on that he wanted to play basketball professionally.
"Right from the beginning, I saw my dad's games and listened to all the stories he told me. I wanted to do that for my life and for a living," he said. "He would tell stories about competing for championships, always practicing and doing what you love for a living."
When asked about who his favorites players to watch growing up were, Hayes answers: "Manu Ginobili. I like his playing style, his vision. And I like James Harden. I am trying to focus my game more like him - like a point guard who can score but also play for the team. That's what i am looking for."
And both are left-handed players as well, the interviewer notes.
"Yeah, that's why."
That last answer featured something else - a smile, almost as if it was let out accidentally. The real Killian Hayes had been for ever-so-briefly exposed.
Back to being stoic for the next question about what he needs to work on in his game.
"I've got be more consistent on my jump shot. Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it's a little bit sloppy. I've got to keep working on my shooting."
And what about the Semi-Finals and the showdown with Croatia in order to reach the Final - and stay alive in the hunt for France's third FIBA U16 European Championship title following 2004 and 2014?
"We have good shooters so when we get fired up nothing can stop us."
Spoken like a true superhero.