Jai’Chaunn Hayes has the perfect name for NIL branding.
“No one else may even have that name anywhere,” Hayes said.
That’s a fact, and no one else may have his basketball future.
Hayes, who is a rising junior at White Hall High School, has already received offers from four SEC schools – Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Missouri and, yes, Arkansas. The four-star player in the 2025 class also has an offer from UAPB. Memphis has also indicated interest but so far has not made an offer.
The 6-foot-7 Hayes, whose name is a combination of beloved family members but goes by Jai, could let the attention go to his head. But his dad, Josh Hayes, keeps him grounded. Josh Hayes just happens to be the head basketball coach for the White Hall Bulldogs.
“I’ve been around basketball my whole life,” Jai Hayes said. “I was a baby watching it and it only seems right I would pick it up.”
Pick it up, he did.
Catching the Eye of Arkansas Basketball
Jai’Chaunn Hayes, a shooting and point guard, wowed Bulldog fans and even rivals last season with his outside shooting abilities in the regular season and during the legendary King Cotton Holiday Classic basketball tournament in Pine Bluff. During last year’s tournament, the Bulldogs pulled a historic 65-64 win against the Grissom Tigers from Huntsville, Ala. It was their first King Cotton win. Prior to Josh Hayes as coach, the Bulldogs had never even been invited to the tournament.
It was at the King Cotton in 2021 that Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman first eyed Hayes when he attended the tournament. Jump to last month and an offer was extended from Musselman to Jai Hayes.
“First, it’s the Razorbacks and I’m from Arkansas and it’s the most hyped,” Jai Hayes said. “Ever since Coach Musselman has been there, they have had a huge turnaround. I like what he is doing. The team and program seem like it is on the upswing.”
Because of NCAA rules, Hayes has yet to visit the Razorback campus, which he can officially do in 2024. He also hasn’t talked to many members of Musselman’s staff, but that will soon change, he thinks.
An astute student of basketball, Hayes has researched Musselman and his career – especially in the NBA where Musselman coached the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. Musselman’s background impresses Hayes because the NBA is ultimately where he wants to land.
“Coach Muss was an NBA coach, and he has a lot of NBA connections,” Hayes said.
Hayes said Musselman’s offer was “honestly a surprise” when it came from a phone call.
“I was extremely excited,” Hayes said. “It’s motivation for me to keep getting better.”
What’s Ahead for Jai Hayes
Last year, Jai’Chaunn Hayes averaged 27 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. He earned first-team All-State, All-Conference and King Cotton All-Tournament honors last season. Hayes shot 39% from three-point range and he is an 80% free throw shooter.
With his summer filled with camps, team workouts and his own personal strength training, Hayes’ stats will likely skyrocket during his junior year.
“There’s no way we don’t go to playoffs and maybe win a championship,” Hayes said.
White Hall plays in the 5A South conference that includes cross-county rivals the Pine Bluff Zebras, the current 5A state champions. Other teams in the conference include the Bulldogs’ fiercest rival, the Sheridan Yellowjackets, as well as Hot Springs Lakeside, Benton and Lake Hamilton.
With the elder Hayes at the helm of the Bulldogs program, Jai is in a unique position but pros and cons exist in such a close relationship.
“It’s obviously ups and downs,” Hayes said. “He may be getting on me but I know he is just trying to make me better myself. He knows what he is talking about and whatever he tells me it is going to be right. I just may not see eye-to-eye with him at that moment.”
Hayes said that some players have accused him of getting favoritism, but Hayes said that is wrong.
“If anything, he is harder on me,” Hayes said. “Everyone gets equal time, and he probably gets on me the most.”
The interview with Jai was held in Josh Hayes’ gym office, and Josh laughed at his son’s comment. The close relationship between the two is obvious. The Hayes family lives in Redfield but previously lived in Little Rock where Josh Hayes was the head coach at eStem. Jai also has a younger brother, Van, who also plays basketball and is a star in his own right for the Class of 2029. Van recently scored 25 points – 20 in the first half – in an AAU game.
Josh Hayes wants to steer Jai and Van in the right direction because, as he said, sports is a vastly different world now than when he was playing. If he is a bit rough on him, it’s out of love and concern.
“Sports are changing quickly,” Josh Hayes said. “Things move faster.”
Unique Challenge for Hayes
One main catalyst is NIL. More states are allowing high school students to profit from their name, image and likeness. Arkansas is not one of them, but such a law is currently under study by a legislative group. A high school athlete can’t make an NIL deal until they sign with an Arkansas college.
Josh Hayes said it was too early to think too much about that but that they are examining all-options. One option would be glasses. Jai Hayes is known for his eyewear on and off the court. Why not contacts? The answer is simple. He can’t wear them.
“My eyes are too small for contacts, way small,” Hayes said. “I tried to get contacts in and it didn’t work. I just wear glasses and it gives me a unique look.”
Hayes is blind in his right eye and has glaucoma.
“Everything I do, I do with my left eye,” he said. “My peripheral vision is from my left eye. Sometimes I might misread on the court, but most of the time it doesn’t affect me at all. Being taller and bigger than a lot of the players helps, too.”
It’s very rare for a half-blind recruit to make it to high-major college basketball. It appears no basketball Razorback, at least in modern times, has had such a condition. The best recent example in the game is the 7’1″ Isaiah Austin, a former Razorback recruit who played two years for Baylor before a Marfan syndrome diagnosis sidelined a likely NBA career.
This summer, Jai Hayes is all over Arkansas at basketball camps with his Bulldogs. He works out 2-3 days a week either with his team or solo. Every workout, he said, is an improvement workout that invests in his dream. Which is? It’s all basketball.
“I want to make this a job,” Hayes said. “It would be a dream come true.”
Check out some highlights from one of Jai’Chaunn Hayes’ games last season:
More coverage of Arkansas basketball and Arkansas recruiting from BoAS…