Elite recruit Anastasia Hayes goes school shopping for four
Anastasia Hayes is a 5-foot-7 guard and the No. 17 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2017 class. Blessed with a quick first step, she averaged 19.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists as a junior at Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tennessee). Dozens of schools have offered her scholarships and Hayes has narrowed her list to six.
But one number looms larger in her recruiting process than the rest: Four.
As in four Hayes sisters. As in four promising basketball prospects in one family who all could wind up at the same school.
Anastasia is a senior at Riverdale. Her sister Aislynn is a sophomore at Riverdale; her sister Alasia is a freshman at Riverdale; and her sister Acacia is a 12-year-old. All four players are guards, and everyone connected to the family -- including Anastasia -- has predicted that Acacia will be the best of them all.
"It's very important to me to play with my sisters," Anastasia said. "We're a close family. We have a great bond."
Anastasia, who has narrowed her list to Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Florida, very well might be choosing for them all.
According to the girls' parents, Sherry and Arnett, only one school -- South Carolina -- has yet to offer scholarships to Hayes' three sisters. The other five universities are all in.
So when Anastasia makes a visit to South Carolina this weekend, she'll have an important question for coach Dawn Staley.
"So what are you waiting for?"
A born fighter
Hayes' parents both played basketball in high school. In fact, they met on a basketball court in an apartment complex in Nashville, shortly after they had graduated high school.
Basketball is such a family passion that Sherry said she played her favorite sport "goofing around" while she was pregnant with Anastasia, something she now feels she shouldn't have done.
Anastasia can score 25 points off her defense alone.Tom Insell
Anastasia was born via emergency cesarean section with Sherry's umbilical cord wrapped around her neck three times.
"Anastasia came into this world fighting," Sherry said. "It really was dangerous. Her heart rate dropped, and I was in labor for three days.
"She fought, and she is here today, so blessed and talented."
Hayes first showed her talents in softball, which she began playing at age 3. She pitched, played shortstop and hit leadoff. Even though she is right-handed, she would bat left. With her speed, her drag bunts were almost always hits.
She didn't start playing basketball until sixth grade. She immediately fell in love with the sport -- and especially the "nice shoes" she got to wear -- even though she admits to being very bad at the start.
"It was a struggle at first, but she was hungry to learn the game," said Cliff Coleman, who coached her with Tennessee Team Pride.
"She could always outrun everybody. But, in the beginning, she would get a steal and couldn't score. She would bang the ball against the backboard."
With her passion for the game, Hayes was a quick study. In about a year, she started playing for the Tennessee Flight AAU program, where she remains. She quit softball in eighth grade.
Flight coach Tom Insell said Hayes is one of the top five high school players in the country.
"She has the quickest first step of any player I've ever coached, and I have more than 20 players in the pros right now," he said. "She's a little undersized, but she makes up for it with quickness and leaping."
Insell recalls a game from the Nike Nationals semifinal this summer when he watched Hayes score 27 points against a team led by Megan Walker, a 6-1 wing at Chesterfield (Monacan, Virginia) and the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 class.
"Anastasia can score 25 points off her defense alone," Insell said. "We don't even run many plays for her until late in the game.
"She's all business on the court, which is what's going to make her great at the next level. I rarely get on her or even say a word to her, and that's unusual because I'm one of the most vocal coaches in the country."
That "all-business" approach has been good to Hayes, who started her varsity career as an eighth-grader, averaging 14 points for Goodpasture Christian (Madison, Tennessee).
As a freshman, she averaged 18 points at Hendersonville (Tennessee). She moved to Riverdale as a sophomore, averaging 19.4 points and 4.2 assists.
Despite her bright future, Hayes has sometimes been lost in the shadow of former Blackman (Murfreesboro) star guard Crystal Dangerfield, a three-time Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year who is now a freshman at Connecticut. Blackman had beaten Riverdale seven straight times before Riverdale finally got revenge last year.
It happened March 1 in the Class 3A regional semifinals. Riverdale eliminated the two-time defending state champions 73-66. Dangerfield was "held" to 20 points while Hayes had the game of her life: 28 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.
"[Dangerfield] came up to me after the game and hugged me," Hayes said. "She told me to 'finish it.' "
Hayes and the Warriors did just that, finishing the season on an eight-game win streak. The Warriors won their state quarterfinal game by 15 points, their semifinal by 22 and the championship by 32.
But despite all her success in basketball, Hayes has other talents, too. As a junior track star, she finished third at state in the 400 meters and fifth in the 200 meters.
"That's with no personal coach and very little training," her father said. "With training, some people say she could go to the Olympics."
Hayes also taught herself to do back flips. Those close to Hayes say she's a good singer. She also has a 3.3 GPA and plans on becoming an orthodontist after she's done playing.
"I want to make people happy," Hayes said. "After I took off my braces, I was smiling 24/7 because I felt my teeth were the prettiest things. I want to make people smile like that."
Come October, when she decides on a college, there will be one coaching staff that will be smiling for sure. Maybe even for four.