Off the Court: Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes

One reason why there’s so much excitement about the future in New Orleans? During the 2019-20 season, the Pelicans have had the fourth- and eighth-youngest players in the entire league on their roster, both lottery picks from the 2019 NBA Draft. Picked No. 8 overall in last year’s lottery, Jaxson Hayes, 19, was born May 23, 2000, making him roughly seven weeks older than teammate and No. 1 selection Zion Williamson. The only high draft picks from ’19 younger than Hayes are Williamson, Detroit forward Sekou Doumbouya and New York guard R.J. Barrett. Despite not focusing primarily on basketball until late in high school, the high-flying Hayes emerged as a coveted NBA prospect and has appeared in 56 games for the Pelicans, starting 12 times in ’19-20. The Buckeye State native and Crescent City fan favorite discussed his background with Pelicans.com:

Best moments as an athlete: “Winning the state championship in Ohio during my senior year of high school. Also, getting drafted into the NBA.”

How he chose his current uniform number of 10: “I was No. 10 at Texas, so I just wanted to keep it the same.”

One thing fans might be surprised to know about him: “I know how to play the piano and the trumpet. Not very well, but I know how to play them.”

Favorite thing about New Orleans: “The food, 100 percent. It’s amazing. My favorite dish is fried alligator tails. Not a lot of people want to try them. I didn’t want to try them at first, either.”

Favorite childhood memory playing basketball: “My first time playing basketball I was in second grade, and my mom was my coach.”

First job: “I was a bus boy at a restaurant called Shooters in Loveland, Ohio (near Cincinnati).”

Favorite things about his hometown: “Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, my family and just the people there. It has four seasons and snows, the colors of the leaves change.”

Subject he’s knowledgeable about besides basketball: “Movies. I really like scary movies and watch a lot of them. It might sound crazy but when I’m bored I watch scary movies by myself.” [smiles]

Nicknames: “J.R., Sideshow Jax.”

Biggest lesson learned from basketball: “Always be open to new things. You’re going to learn a lot, so be receptive to coaching.”

Biggest mentors: “My parents. I talk to them almost every day and they always give me tips on life.”

Player who had the biggest influence on him: “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, because of his sky hook. He’s a huge influence for a lot of bigs.”

What he’d be doing if he weren’t an NBA player: “I’d still be in college, but afterward I’d want to be a real estate agent.”

Favorite exercise besides basketball: “Playing football.”Favorite healthy food: “I love grapes. I like apples and fruit a lot.”

Actor who’d play him in a movie: “Melvin Gregg. He’s from American Vandal, season 2. He’s a tall, light-skin guy.”

Favorite musical artist: “Future.”

How he’s most likely to spend a day off during the season: “Playing video games. My favorite game right now is probably Anthem. EA Sports gave it to me and I like it.”

Favorite Christmas memory: “My grandmother gave me a Lego set and we built it the whole day. It was one of those big ships from Star Wars.”

Most surprising thing about the NBA as a rookie: “How much there is to learn. You come in expecting to learn a lot, but there is way more that you have to learn than you expect.”

Most underrated player in the NBA: “Me, for sure.” [smiles]

Best uniforms in the NBA (besides the Pelicans’): “Cleveland Cavaliers.”