Killian Hayes ‘kind of knew it was Detroit’ as Pistons land French teen in first round

Killian Hayes will be one of the NBA’s youngest players, but Troy Weaver says he’s more ready than most rookies to provide some immediate help.

“He’s been a pro for a while – since he was 16,” Weaver said after making Hayes the Pistons pick at No. 7 in Wednesday night’s NBA draft. “I think his learning curve may be a little faster than a normal rookie in the States. He was coached hard over in Europe and he has high basketball character. His parents did a tremendous job raising him, so we were excited about the young man as well as the player.”

Weaver said one of his abiding principles gleaned from more than a decade as second in command at Oklahoma City when picking high in the draft is to first make sure you’re sold on the character of the player. Hayes checked that box for him in a big way.

“His dad (DeRon, a star at Penn State in the early ’90s) was a former player. He’s been around the game all his life,” Weaver said. “So he has a really competitive spirit. That’s the biggest trait we look for. We want competitive guys. He’s extremely competitive.”

Hayes had an inkling Detroit would be his destination and wound up getting an eyeballs emoji text from fellow Frenchman Sekou Doumbouya, last year’s Pistons pick, as the selection was made. Hayes said he texted back to Doumbouya in French, “I’m coming.”

“It’s a big relief because in my head, I kind of knew it was Detroit,” Hayes said. “But nothing was guaranteed. When I heard my name with Detroit, I was really happy. … A lot of excitement. I felt super proud of myself.”

Hayes turned 19 in late July while Doumbouya, the youngest player in the NBA last season after the Pistons took him 15th in the 2019 draft, will turn 20 in late December.

Weaver said Hayes, 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, stood out for his size and physicality at point guard. He compared him to Miami guard Goran Dragic, who helped lead the Heat to the 2020 NBA Finals.

“The comparison for me is a bigger version of Dragic,” Weaver said. “Lefty, crafty, can score at all three levels, can see the floor. Just a bigger version. I think he’ll help us right off the bat defensively. For a young player, he has a defensive mindset. And he can really see the floor and spray the ball around. Keeping his teammates involved and bringing a defensive mentality, he’ll help us with right away.”

Hayes was born in Florida when his father was playing minor-league basketball there but moved to France when DeRon Hayes embarked on a lengthy career in European pro leagues. He played professionally for two seasons in France and last year moved to Germany’s top league with Ulm, where he played point guard and solidified himself as a lottery prospect.

In 10 games with Ulm on the highly competitive EuroCup circuit, Hayes averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 assists in 27 minutes a game, shooting .455 overall, .390 from the 3-point arc and .909 from the free-throw line. Hayes was turnover prone, averaging 3.3 a game, but cut down on them as the season progressed in his first year as a full-time point guard.

Hayes said that while he might have been left-hand dominant, he’s used the down time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to work on his body and his fundamentals.

“That was eight months ago,” he said. “I’ve been working a lot since then. Right now my right hand is not an issue. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as my left, but I can go right at will now. It’s not a problem any more.”

Hayes trained last summer with ex-Pistons guard Will Bynum and picked his brain about what to expect from the city and the franchise.

“He came down to Orlando like a month ago and we talked a lot about Detroit,” Hayes said. “He said it’s a hard-working city, so if I get drafted there just make sure I give my all every game.”