By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Adjusting to new surroundings is rarely easy.
Meeting new people and learning a new city can be challenging to anyone. But for someone shy like Keyona Hayes, that challenge can often seem terrifying.
Hayes moved a lot as a child, living all over Georgia and meeting new people more often than she would have liked.
"Growing up in Georgia was fun," Hayes said. "But I didn't really stay in the same spot. We moved around a lot so I had to make friends a few different times."
The 18-year-old freshman is admittedly introverted and has never enjoyed talking to others, especially those she barely knows. Growing up, Hayes rarely said a word off the court. Instead, the 6-foot-1 forward preferred to let her stellar play on the court talk for her.
"Because I was on the basketball team, I was known and people wanted to talk to me," Hayes said. "I'm the type of person that will talk to you, but I probably wouldn't approach you first. So it was tough, but being on the basketball team helped me make friends whenever I was in a new place."
Hayes, who was an all-state selection at St. Francis High in Marietta, Ga., was not the typical superstar. People generally associate big-time players with big time egos, but Hayes never liked talking about herself or her accomplishments.
Her talent drew the attention of several universities, including Miami, South Carolina and Charlotte. While many recruits love the recruiting process and all the attention that comes with it, Hayes did not enjoy the need to converse with coaches at prospective universities.
"Recruiting was fun," Hayes said. "A lot of coaches called but I don't really like to talk to people, so I e-mailed them and talked to them on Facebook. I tried not to talk on the phone too much, but it was a fun process and definitely a good experience."
Ironically, it was conversations with Miami coach Katie Meier that drew Hayes to the Hurricanes.
"I really love Katie and she's a really good coach," Hayes said. "She makes you feel like you're important and like she needed you. She has a lot of energy and is always making you feel great. She's a very good person and has a great personality."
While on a recruiting visit to the Miami campus, Hayes got to know Meier and her future teammates. She instantly felt comfortable around the team and knew she wanted to join the Hurricane family.
"The team made me feel like I was a part of the family, even though I wasn't," Hayes said. "That's something most teams don't have. They made me feel like I had been here for a long time, even though I had just met them. It was a good feeling."
Like most freshmen, Hayes has an upperclassman that she looks up to and tries to emulate. Fortunately for Miami, that upperclassman is captain Morgan Stroman.
"We connected when she first stepped foot on campus in the summer," Stroman said. "I stayed in the village so she came over and hung out with me and Suriya [McGuire] once. I have a close bond with a lot of people on the team. When practice was going on, the coaches would say, 'you two need to stick together. She can be really good if she looks up to you.' I took that as a challenge to be a better leader, not just for her, but for everyone on the team. We hang out a lot and she's been taking it in. I really like how she plays on the court."
Stroman has been a contributor for Meier's team since the day she arrived in 2009. Now, the senior forward is contributing to the development of Hayes, whom many believe could be the next great player at Miami.
"I really wish I had the energy that Stro has," Hayes said. "I would be a whole different person because Stro has a lot of energy. I'm going to try to be that way."
Stroman, who leads the Canes in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals, thinks Hayes can be the type of player she wants to be immediately."She just needs to step out of her comfort zone," Stroman said. "I think she is a little stuck on how other people would react if she were to be more energetic. I think as long as you're out there playing basketball, you really don't need to worry about what anybody else thinks. She can do it and we've seen her do it in spurts. We just need that to be a continuous thing."
In her brief time at Miami, Hayes has forged bonds with Stroman and the rest of her teammates. Those strong relationships off the court have proven beneficial on the court, as Miami is off to a strong start this season.
"The whole team really hangs out a lot," Hayes said. "I look up to them and listen to what they have to say. They're really good people. I feel like our relationship off the court helps us play better on the court."
Hayes has been a key contributor as a freshman, providing offense and rebounding off the bench for the Canes. She has already scored double-digit points in three of Miami's first eight games, including a 14-point, 11-rebound effort against FAU.
"I came in ready to help," Hayes said. "I knew what to expect from Coach and what she wanted from me. I came here ready to work and I earned my spot. Coach believed in me and I showed her that I'm ready to play."
Even though she has had success early in her career, Hayes admits that she would like to be more consistent. The talented forward sees plenty of room for improvement in her game.
"I'd like to improve my feet," Hayes said. "They're kind of slow. I believe that if I get that a little better, then I'll be able to move vertically and be alright. I work out with the coaches twice a week outside of practice to improve my footwork. It's already getting a little better because I can move quicker vertically now than I could before, but I still have a lot of work to do."
Hayes knows that improvement will not come easily. As someone who has always gotten by on natural ability, it has been challenging for Hayes to stay after practice and work on her game. But she has seen progress already and that has motivated her to continue to strive for excellence.
"I want to improve my work ethic," Hayes said. "I never really had to work for anything, so it's been kind of a challenge. At first, it was hard because I wasn't used to having to do extra workouts outside of practice. Now, I'm ready and always looking to get another workout in."
The freshman has big expectations for herself. While she is pleased with the way her career has begun, she aspires to be one of the all-time great Hurricanes by the time she leaves Miami.
"I think my career is going to go well," Hayes said. "I think I can become and All-American. I want to make the All-ACC team. I just have to work hard to get to that level."
Stroman sees plenty of signs that Hayes can become the star player that she hopes to be. She just needs to continue working hard to improve off her natural ability."There are so many people who come up to me and say they like Keyona Hayes and they like how she plays," Stroman said. "I agree with them. I think that by the time she leaves here she is going to be one of those players that is going to be remembered. She can catch anything you throw to her. She rebounds like crazy. Her field goal percentage is really good too. If she keeps it up and bumps her energy a little, she could be one of the greatest players to ever play here."