Greg Gard doesn’t view Nigel Hayes as just the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.
He views his senior forward as many things and a product of the experiences he’s gained throughout four years as a student at the University of Wisconsin.
“He’s used his college education for something more than just being a basketball player,” Gard said of Hayes Monday on the College Hoops Today Podcast, just 48 hours after the 6-7 forward showed up on ESPN’s College Gameday with a sign that read “Broke College Student”. “When I’ve spoke with him on all of his view points on Black Lives Matter and the statements he’s made there, his understanding of the history of issues and his knowledge base is outstanding. He’s wise well beyond his 21 or 22 years of age.”
Gard said he had no knowledge that Hayes was going to go on national television with the sign.
When asked when public statements like this would begin to cause a distraction for the Badgers’ season, Gard acknowledged that things are not close to reaching that point.
“I think it’s a fine balance,” Gard said. “We have to make sure it’s not a distraction or a disturbance to the rest of the group. And I think we’ve been okay with that. Our team has been fine with that. I think as we get closer to the season we have to lock in even more, but there’s always going to be areas where there’s going to be an opportunity to make a statement on something. If these men feel that it’s important at different times to make their case known, as long as they discuss it with us and feel that it’s important to make a statement, then we support that.”
Hayes isn’t only the Wisconsin player speaking out on social issues. Senior guard Bronson Koenig recently joined the Dakota Pipeline protest.
The Badgers return 99.7 percent of their scoring from last season’s team that reached the Sweet 16 and lost to Notre Dame.
Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.