By LARRY VAUGHT
Even before she got a scholarship offer from Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, 6-1 junior Jillian Hayes of Loveland, Ohio, had a lot of ties to the the University of Kentucky already.
Her mother, Kristi, was a prolific high school scorer in Iowa who averaged 52 points per game during her four-year career. She scored over 1,500 points during her collegiate career at Drake and then coached at the Division I level. She met Mitchell during one of former Tennessee coach Pat Summit’s camps. Her father, Jonathan Hayes, played 12 years in the NFL and spent the last 16 years coaching tight ends for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jillian Hayes’ brother, Jaxson, is now a freshman player at Texas. He was recruited by Kentucky coach John Calipari but ultimately picked the Longhorns.
Last summer she played on the same Kentucky Premier team as Kentucky signee Emma King of Lincoln County.
“I can shoot and I can hit a 3, but not the way that Emma can,” said Hayes. She’s a great shooter.”
She’s averaging 17 points, nine rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocked shots per game this year and now has 11 Division I scholarship offers. Kentucky, though, is her only Southeastern Conference offer.
“Of course it was very exciting to get that offer,” the junior said. “Obviously I still have to remain humble and stay focused and keep working hard, but it was a great offer to get. Kentucky’s style is something that I really like. It was kind of a surprise to get the offer. He (Mitchell) had come to see me play and then I got a text, but it was still kind of a surprise to get the offer.”
What about playing in college with King?
“I have not thought much about that, but it would be a lot of fun to play with Emma again,” Hayes, a National Honor Society member, said. “But I am not worried about where I am going to college and I am not going to rush my decision. I am just focused on my season and then AAU. I plan to play with Kentucky Premier again.”
Hayes attended Big Blue Madness in October and said the event was “amazing” from start to finish. She said Mitchell’s annual Big Blue Madness dancing was “something else” to see.
She watches her brother play when she can and grew up playing against him often.
“I was the younger sister obviously, but I would go to practice and jump in and play,” Jillian Hayes said. “He probably got annoyed with me at times. We worked out together and now when he’s home, we still go and shoot and mess around together.
“We both had to work very hard to get where we are. Both my parents were Division I athletes, so we have some natural athleticism. But things did not come easy for me or my brother.”
Hayes is considered one of the more versatile juniors because of her various skills and with her size figures to continue hauling in Division I offers.
“I would probably say attacking the basket and getting to the rim is what I like to do best,” Hayes said. “I love getting to the hoop and finishing plays. That really makes me happy.”