Sports

The Man Behind Lanier

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John Hayes during his playing days for St. Bonaventure University
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John Hayes still holds the basketball scoring record at Niagara Falls High School and the Niagara Frontier League, about 50 years after averaging nearly 30 points a game.  Following that performance, he decided to sign with St. Bonaventure, becoming a key part in the Bonnies’ basketball history.

At 6-foot-5, Hayes was a threat on the court.  As a freshman, Hayes was leading the country in scoring, besting UCLA’s Lew Alcindor (who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).  Hayes was averaging 34.8 points per game, while Alcindor was only averaging 33 points.  “Not a lot of people can say that,” said Hayes.

“I look back on it now and I’m still in awe that in my career, I was scoring just as many points as an NBA great,” he said.

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Hayes added that the game was different from when he played to now with Marcus Posley and Jaylen Adams sinking three pointers.  “We didn’t have that (three pointers).  We also didn’t have a shot clock, dunking was not allowed, but it allowed us to score more points,” he said.

In 1966, what was a great start to his college career, was surprisingly halted by injury.  “I’ll never forget the date, Oct. 15, 1966, the first day of practice.”  Hayes injured his knee and would be out for a few weeks with intentions on returning.  He returned to play against Xavier, but twisted his leg in a subsequent game against Denver at Memorial Auditorium.

“That’s a season that will haunt me for a while, but what happened for the rest of my time at Bona’s is what I really enjoy looking back on.”

In 1967-68, Hayes averaged 13.6 points a game, shooting 53 percent. The Brown Indians finished the regular season undefeated, 22-0, rated No. 3 in the country by the Associated Press and United Press International. The starting five on that team played almost every minute and each averaged in double figures.  One name, other than John, stands out for that team.  Bob Lanier.

“Only a handful of people can say they played with Bob, and it was an awesome experience.”  Hayes added that although most Bonnies know Lanier as a legend on campus, he joked about how he didn’t start off that way.  “During his freshman year, he wasn’t great, but he matured.”

The Olean college, with a small roster, upset Bob Cousy’s Boston College team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but bowed to North Carolina in the second round.  “I don’t think I will ever forget that year.  It was heartbreaking when we lost, but all the excitement before that was indescribable.”

During the undefeated season, Hayes was labeled “garbageman.”  Why? Hayes does not know.”I have been laughing at myself and that name for as long as I can remember,” he said. “To be honest, I have no idea how I got that name.”  After years of thought, he figured that it was probably because of the fact that he was willing to get “down and dirty” to get loose balls and make key plays.

As his time at St. Bonaventure was winding down, Hayes was offered a chance to play in the NBA with the New York Knicks.  “It was a great opportunity, but once I had that knee injury, it changed everything.”

Hayes, Lanier and other members of the undefeated team meet once every three years and have been for the last 15 years.  “It’s nice to catch up with the boys, relive our glory days and see what our home looks like today and compare it to what it was like back when we were here.”

Now with his playing days a distant memory, Hayes is about to head down south to spend his fourth year in Florida, enjoying his retirement.  “I’m not a beach guy, but when you have weather options of Western New York snow and cold versus the warm, sunny days in Florida, you know where you’re going.”

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