November 29, 2011

D-LEAGUE: All out, all the time

BY MIKE LOWE

PORTLAND -- Kenny Hayes was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Chris Wright was The Rock. Or maybe The Undertaker.

They would arrange the furniture in Wright's basement to simulate a wrestling ring.

And then they would go at it, Hayes usually mimicking all the best moves of their favorite pro wrestlers at the time, Wright usually the victim of his moves.

"Oh yeah," said Ernestine Grigsby, Wright's mother. "Down in the basement. They did all that stupid WWF stuff -- the DDT, the Piledriver. They thought they were having a cage match, all that craziness."

They lived about seven houses apart on Mario Drive in Trotwood, Ohio, just outside Dayton. They played basketball and/or video games from morning to dusk. Not only were Hayes and Wright best friends, but cousins.

Ten years later, they are together again, this time as teammates -- and roommates -- for the Maine Red Claws.

Hayes, a 6-foot-2 guard, is in his second year with the NBA Development League team. Wright, a 6-8 forward with a library of YouTube highlight videos, is a rookie, drafted in the first round earlier this month.

"It's crazy, how we go from playing in the backyard, wrestling, from wanting to be WWF wrestlers to being professional basketball players," said Hayes. "Getting to play on the same team ... that's a blessing. You just don't hear that. I'm excited and I know he's excited.

"I'm ready to get it rolling."

And if things go as both hope, the Red Claws have got a dynamic duo capable of bringing high energy every night.

"One of the things Jon (Jennings, the president and general manager of the Red Claws) and I wanted to bring to the table with our players this year is energy," said Red Claws coach Dave Leitao, who is in his first season. "And both are right up front with that. They're all-out all the time. They've shown that thus far in our practices.

"It's something that I think will be good for us. It's such a long season and those two are going to provide that (energy) for us."

Really good friends

Kenny Hayes was grounded. Not that being grounded was unusual for Hayes. "I was probably grounded at least once a week."

This time he had broken a window at Wright's home while playing basketball in the backyard.

So Hayes was confined to his house. But that didn't stop the two of them getting together.

Unbeknownst to Hayes' mother, Wright came by the house and stood outside the window to Hayes' room. Hayes turned his television around so that Wright could see the screen, then handed a controller out the window and they played their favorite Dreamcast game, WWF War Zone -- a wrestling game, of course.

"We played all day, until the street lights came on," said Hayes.

That was the type of friendship they had growing up. If you saw one, you saw the other. Playing basketball, riding bikes, running to the store. In the fall, they even had a leaf-raking business.

"Yeah, we ran that neighborhood," said Hayes. "If we saw somebody else going around, knocking on doors, it wasn't going to happen."

"It was a pretty good life," said Wright.

"They were just really good friends," said Grigsby. "I knew if Chris wasn't (home), or at practice, he was down the street at Kenny's."

They attended the same school, until the eighth grade. That's when Hayes got cut from the basketball team.

"That's Kenny's motivation and determination," said his mother, Sheila Johnson. "I remember that day very well. I got a call from the principal and he told me there was a problem. He told me Kenny got cut. So I went to school and took him home, told him everything would be all right."

(Continued on page 2)

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