Nigel Hayes isn’t short on cockiness and said he believes one day the Knicks will regret not keeping him in the organization.
Cut out of training camp, the undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin joined the Westchester Knicks, excelled and moved on. He signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers in January and now is with the Raptors.
Hayes came in for five minutes Sunday in the fourth quarter and drilled both of his 3-pointers. After making his second one, he whirled his finger and yapped at his former Westchester teammate Trey Burke, whom he claimed taunted him.
“I think it was Trey who yelled something,” said the always chatty Hayes, who buried New York City for its lack of cleanliness ahead of a 2017 NCAA Tournament game at the Garden. “I’m like, you didn’t just yell that. You didn’t because we played together in the G-League and you were passing me for 3s. It was friendly, playful banter.’’
Burke, whom the Knicks signed out of Westchester in January, said it was Kyle O’Quinn who had taunted Hayes.
“Wasn’t me, but if he wants it to be me, it was me,” Burke said.
The Knicks have made several roster additions, including signing small forward Troy Williams out of the All-Star break. Hayes, also a small forward, had just returned from his Lakers stint but says he’s not angry at another Knicks snub.
“Obviously they didn’t’ see the value of bringing me in,’’ Hayes said. “They felt they could get a better addition to the team by bringing someone else in. No need to get personal feelings in it. I made improvements the way they suggested when they waived me after preseason. I met those adjustments to help myself grow and exceeded them.”
Hayes has no issues of talking about himself in the third person.
“I can’t worry about comparing myself to another player and saying I’m better than him,’’ Hayes said. “I have to focus on Nigel. I bloomed a little too late. If I was this version of Nigel on draft night, I’d been on a roster rotation. I’m an NBA player. I took the stairs instead of the elevator but I will make it to the top floor.”
Hayes also was highly complimentary of Knicks assistant Kurt Rambis, who said he helped him improve his shot immensely with shoulder balance and said he’s a vital part of the staff.
“I love him,” Hayes said. “There’s one coach that keeps everything relaxed and chill and happy-go-lucky.”
Forward Isaiah Hicks is another player the Knicks valued over Hayes. Hicks signed a two-way contract with the Knicks after he was in training camp with the Hornets. Hicks had an interesting commute after Friday’s game in Milwaukee. Instead of flying home with the club, he took a 90-minute drive north to Oshkosh, Wis. to suit up Saturday for Westchester against the Wisconsin Herd.
Hicks racked up 29 points as Westchester (league-best 39-26) clinched a playoff berth. The undrafted rookie out of North Carolina is allowed 45 days with the Knicks under the new two-way contracts. He has appeared in seven games and played 11 minutes Sunday (1-of-3 from the field, three points) and probably will see more action as the Knicks’ tank rolls on.
With Hayes and Hicks, that means all five of Westchester’s starters at the season’s outset are on NBA rosters now. The other three are Luke Kornet, who started Sunday, Trey Burke and point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who recently signed with Memphis.
“We had the best starting five and our whole starting five is not even there right now,” Hicks said. “It shows how talented our starting five was. We just weren’t winning every game. We were winning, winning — double-digits.”