Two weeks ago during Winter Break, the Bellingham boys' basketball team hosted its Winter Holiday Camp - a two-day basketball skills clinic, where the Red Raiders became coaches and got to lead their youth squads in a camp tournament.
Kailen Hayes' team won. And he soaked up every moment of it. He called it "probably one of the funnest things I have ever done."
"We had a winter camp and all he wants to do is get his team to win," Red Raiders coach Brad McKay said. "Even if he is coaching a team of third graders, he wants to win. Beat his peers, that's what he's all about."
It's no wonder, then, that when McKay took over the Bellingham boys' program this year, the first thing he noticed about Hayes was his love to compete. Walk-throughs and individual drills may not be the junior's ideal way to spend a practice, but when Bellingham starts scrimmaging or playing its one-on-one King of the Court game, Hayes is all in.
But his desire to prove himself has taken on a heightened challenge this winter.
Bellingham might be the smallest team in the Northwest Conference since 6-foot-10 junior skyscraper Logan Schilder suffered a season-ending injury early on.
Speed and athleticism are two of the Red Raiders' strongest traits, and McKay planned before Schilder's injury to take advantage by using an all-guard set with Hayes as Bellingham's five-man. When Schilder went down, though, the barely 6-foot-tall Hayes was thrust into being the Red Raiders' full-time center.
The opportunity to play against much bigger athletes presented Hayes another challenge, one he's unselfishly embraced.
"I kind of like it a little bit, because I'm always around the rim, so it's easier to make a shot - high-percentage shots," Hayes said, "so I'm fine with it. But I love to play guard, because if I'm trying to go to college, I'd probably be a guard."
Hayes played on the perimeter growing up on his AAU teams but has relied on his athleticism to become one of the more unorthodox scoring leaders in the NWC. He's averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game, which ranks fifth among NWC scoring leaders and third among Whatcom County's best. He's had games of 23 and 25 points and recorded a season-high 28 against Meridian.
"For a guy to be able to be as dominant as he is inside, he has great athleticism," McKay said. "Anytime we get him the ball two, three dribbles away from the basket he can score."
Hayes is far from a traditional low-post forward or center. Bellingham likes to run their offense through him, trying to get Hayes the ball in space so he can face up and take taller, slower defenders one-on-one in the paint.
His points also come in transition and off offensive rebounds. His ability to run and score along the perimeter makes him a matchup nightmare for big men, who like to spend their time dwelling under the basket.
Not only has Hayes successfully put up big numbers on the offensive end, McKay praised his junior for his ability to guard much taller forwards in Bellingham's man-to-man defense.
"He can't play defense the traditional way," McKay said. "That three-quarter-high deny on a post guy who is 6-6, 6-7 doesn't work if you're not at least 6-4, 6-5. There's no scheme that helps him defend some of the guys in our league. I think he takes to that, and it's kind of his personal badge of courage, I guess, to be able to defend these guys, in many respects, he has no business defending."
But Hayes' determination to prove he can hang with taller players makes up for what he gives away in height, and he's brought over into basketball extra drive created by a down year in football.
Hayes, who also runs track, was a standout on Bellingham's struggling football team, and he's committed himself to ensuring the basketball season goes differently.
"During football, everyone was kind of used to losing, so I didn't want that to carry over to basketball," Hayes said. "I was kind of angry, I guess. I wanted to make sure we won in basketball."
So far, Bellingham has been winning. It has earned signature wins against Ferndale, Meridian twice and Mount Vernon and has been competitive in all but one game.
The Red Raiders have a pair of up-and-coming forwards in 6-foot-3 sophomore Jakob Chamberlin and 6-foot-7 junior Turner Guy, who both have seen limited time as they gain more experience. McKay said facing Hayes at practice has aided in their development.
Though Hayes has found ways to be effective as Bellingham's inside presence, he and McKay believe he'll finally move to his more natural guard/forward spot next season once Schilder recovers.
"I'd like to play a little outside, but it's whatever to help the team win," Hayes said. "I'll play inside and outside."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.