Usually in these farewell columns, I think I’m supposed to leave you all with some parting words of wisdom from my experience in Madison or something like that. But I have nothing earth-shattering to offer that you haven’t heard before, so I won’t bore anyone with that.
Instead, I’d like to take this final opportunity to say farewell to a different senior departing UW–Madison.
Last month, we saw Nigel Hayes suit up in a Wisconsin uniform for the final time, bringing an end to his remarkable and memorable four-year career as a Badger. On the court, he had one of the most prolific careers of any player in program history. Hayes played in every single one of Wisconsin’s 150 games over the last four years, the most in school history. He finished tied for fourth in school history in starts (112), third behind Alando Tucker and Michael Finley in points (1,857), sixth in rebounds (802), seventh in assists (319) and second to only Josh Gasser in wins (115).
Though his shot development was a source of criticism for some fans over the years, he was still an incredibly well-rounded player who brought so much to the table. He was a versatile and solid defender, a gifted passer with excellent court vision (seriously, watching him and Ethan Happ carve up a zone defense was a thing of beauty) and could be a force to be reckoned with in the post on offense, as Villanova learned this past March.
Of course, he also had a wide range of roles to play throughout perhaps the best four-year stretch in Wisconsin basketball history. As a freshman, Hayes came in as the most important bench player during the first of two consecutive Final Four runs. During his sophomore season, he joined Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker to make up one of the most formidable starting frontcourts in all of college basketball. And over the past two years, he and Bronson Koenig filled the roles of veteran leaders to help Wisconsin make a smooth transition from Bo Ryan to Greg Gard.
It’s been an incredible last four seasons for Badger basketball, and Nigel Hayes has been at the center of it all.
All that on-court success is great and obviously a huge part of his legacy, but what really set Hayes apart and made him one of the most unique players in college basketball was everything he did away from the court.
He provided us with laughs as intrepid reporter Nigel Burgundy, kept press conference stenographers on their toes with his extensive vocabulary and helped student season ticket holders get free donuts.
But most importantly, he’s been passionate about giving back to the community and has never been afraid to stand up for causes and issues that he believes in. Hayes has spoken out against racial injustices at UW–Madison and police brutality against African Americans in the U.S.—stances that didn’t sit well with the segment of fans that are aghast at the thought of athletes talking about things other than sports.
He also has been a vocal critic of the NCAA and its compensation (or lack thereof) for athletes. He stirred up controversy when he showed up to College Gameday this past October with a “Broke College Athlete Anything Helps” sign, asking spectators to send cash to a Venmo account. He then took the money raised from that and donated it to the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, helping families in need go on a holiday shopping spree. He befriended one of those families, whose father was dying of cancer, giving them a reason to smile during the toughest holiday season of their lives. If you haven’t read the full story on that, I urge you to look it up, but keep a box of tissues handy.
It’s just one of many examples of him giving back to the community and tells you all you need to know about the kind of person Nigel Hayes is.
So before Hayes receives his business finance degree in a few weeks at graduation and his time here officially ends, take a moment to appreciate how special it’s been to have him these past four years.
Thank you, Nigel. Madison won’t be the same without you.