[ITW] Killian Hayes, his rise, critics and Wembanyama

Killian Hayes and the main attraction of the NBA Paris Game 2023 that will be held Thursday night at the Accor Arena. A French holder in an NBA team under the eyes of an audience of compatriots, it doesn’t happen every day and the Pistons leader will enjoy every moment.

He was on the Champs Elysées on Wednesday morning, at the Puma House of the Maison du Denmark, to answer questions from several media, including ourselves.

Killian, it must be an uncertain context for you this Paris Game, between the fact that it is an official match, but also that it is in France?
It’s a great opportunity for me to go and play in front of my family and friends. I’m excited to go there. It’s obviously special, but we mustn’t forget our goal: to win on Thursday. It’s still a regular season game. Playing in front of the French public and my family in France, who haven’t seen me play since Cholet, will be tough for me. I can’t wait, really, the opportunity won’t come twice, I guess. So my team and I are excited. I’m about to start and I’m in good shape, I can’t ask for anything more than to play here.

You’re gaining momentum with the Pistons, how do you explain this power surge?
Had a rough start to the season, but I knew I just needed one game where my shots went in for things. Unfortunately, Cade Cunningham was injured. Suddenly my role changed, I was established and I took advantage of this situation by having a little more ball. The shots started coming in and the confidence came in.

As a lottery pick and a French player, you are doubly scrutinized and certainly doubly subject to criticism. How do you manage this pressure and the expectations around you? For example, can you see what is being said about your performances on networks or in the media?
It’s something that can be complicated, to block all that. I think I’ve done well so far to stay focused on my team and the people around me. If you get too caught up in these things, your brain will get a little messy. The important thing is to separate the good reviews from the bad reviews. I don’t need to watch what people and journalists say after the matches. I know what I did right or wrong and what I can do better. And then we have staff who watch the matches, they know. I don’t need to go to the Internet afterwards to see what’s being said (smile). Constructive criticism, the people I see every day, like my father or staff members, I take them.

In the off-season, did you tell yourself that you really need to move on and show things, or your NBA career could be in jeopardy?
No, I never approached the matter like that. The band, the GM and the front office were behind it and I wasn’t pressured like that. The work I’ve done this summer and the work I’ve done throughout my life made me think it was going to happen. I stayed confident, even though I had bad matches. I’m waiting for the shoots to come in. The role confidence I have now only increases. Having a coach and front office behind you pushing you every day and encouraging you even when things aren’t going well helps your mindset.

Do you ever find the time long, wondering when it will arrive?
I wouldn’t say it’s long, but the hardest thing in the NBA is consistency. There are 82 matches and you have to be there every night and perform well. That’s really the hardest part and that’s what I’m trying to do now: stay consistent. The goal in the NBA is to limit the number of foul plays. Sometimes you play good streaks and something bad comes up, shots don’t go in. This is where I have to do other things: defend, find my teammates to make assists. I have to adapt.

How do you manage to maintain this confidence that you always exude?
This is something related to personal work. I always do that. When things aren’t good, that’s when you adapt and reveal a new part of yourself. I didn’t hesitate. I was just wondering why my shots, etc. are not coming in. And the answer is still at work.

Has your relationship with your teammates changed since you started and improved?
To them, the relationship will not change. I am a pass-first player and an open player. Everyone in this group is really great.

Everyone is talking about Victor in the NBA, he is the next big thing, a rare talent. […] Wherever he goes, he will succeed.

Are you talking to the team about Victor Wembanyama and the fact that he might end up in Detroit?
Oh yes, everyone in the NBA is talking about it, it’s “the next big thing”! Victor is an extraordinary talent, a 7 footer who knows how to shoot, dribble… I’m very happy for him, I hope he becomes the 1st pick. It should be. Wherever he goes, he will succeed. We can discuss it between the players, but we don’t decide.

Your defense is one of your traits. Which opponent is the most difficult to defend in the NBA according to you?
I want to say Luka Doncic. His height, build and his speed to play are there. We can’t rush him. He knows how to pass and there are shooters around him. Very complicated.

What areas of improvement do you see in your game?
I’m far from being a perfect player, I have to learn. The consistency, the fitness, my right hand, my shot… I have a lot to learn where I want to be in a few years.

In this very NBA Paris Game, how do you approach this particular opponent that is Chicago, with the rivalry that exists between the two franchises?
The first time we played them at home, it was crowded. We lost in the 4th quarter because LaVine had a big game. There, it’s a game we take seriously. You have to control and limit DeRozan and LaVine. As for the rivalry, Bad Boys vs. MJ. We often have Isiah Thomas around us and at the games, we feel the energy that he and the fans have when we face the Bulls. You can feel the history between the two teams.

Are there any players who inspire you the most right now in the NBA?
I would say James Harden, who I watched a lot. We play it 4 times this season against Philadelphia. I also watch D’Angelo Russell. All lefties actually. Same for Manu Ginobili, even though he quit before I came to the NBA. I was never paralyzed with admiration, but I always tried to learn from them. I steal stuff from them.

Which teams do you see going to the NBA Finals this year?
In the West, it’s tough, but maybe the Grizzlies in the Finals. Memphis is strong in defense and in attack Ja, it is also very strong. In the East, I don’t want to tell anyone, they are our enemy even if we are not ranked well (smiles).

Your future, do you see it in Detroit?
My goal is to stay in Detroit because I get a lot of support here. I have one more year on my contract with them and the aim is to stay.

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