Wisconsin junior forward Nigel Hayes was 10 pounds when he was born on December 16, 1994. His head was out but the rest of his body was not, which told his mother, Talaya Davis, that he did not want to come out for a good reason.
Davis concluded at the time, “He’s going to be a Mama’s boy.”
She was right.
Talaya Davis’ kids refer to her as Mom, Mama, Mommy, Talaya, Gorgeous, and Magic for Magic Johnson because of her big smile. For clarity purposes, we’re going to stick with Mama Davis.
Nigel Hayes and Mama Davis are extremely close. Hayes is very protective of his mother, and Davis is just as protective of her son. They tell each other everything, including things most parents would not talk about with their children. Hayes even tells his mom to calm down sometimes, showing his maturity and understanding of situations.
“He is just so smart, and he has just grown up,” Mama Davis said. “He tells me sometimes things that I just have to sit back and say, ‘You know, he’s right.’ I know some older people don’t like to listen to their kids, but he’s got a lot to say.”
The mom and son talk every day by phone while Hayes is at school in Madison, sometimes two or three times per day. She always texts Nigel before and after games and before he gets on a plane, they communicate in the family’s group chat, and they even Snapchat.
“What kills me, and I told Nigel, is when he calls me the way that he does,” Mama Davis explained. “Sometimes, I just have to sit there and listen to him have conversations with other people. The next thing I know he says, ‘Well gorgeous, you know I’m getting ready to go to class.’ And I’m like ‘I haven’t even talked to you, but I heard your conversations and I heard you breathe, so I know you’re alive.’”
Mama Davis is an active tweeter during her kids’ games, but only when she is not physically at the game. She makes it to most Wisconsin home games and even away games, and you can hear her cheering for her kids from sections away. When she is not at the game cheering, you can see it on her Twitter feed. As she put it, “The way that you see me saying all of these different things is the same thing I do when I’m at a game.”
Mama Davis’ account @TALAYADAVIS has almost 1,000 followers, and she has been on Twitter since 2009. She even had to get her own kids on the social media platform.
Hayes was actually the one who brought attention to her account in an interview once. Since then, her following exploded, and even random Twitter followers have some strange requests.
“These girls actually messaged me to see if I would be at the Illinois game to take a picture with me,” she explained, still stunned. The now Twitter famous Mama Davis is becoming quite the celebrity herself.
“She’s looking to get her official checkmark soon,” Hayes’ father Albert Davis, Sr., said of his wife getting her Twitter account officially verified.
When Mama Davis tweeted a video of her son playing basketball in second grade, the whole Badgers team started making fun of her son. Hayes’ teammates got a kick out of the video, with players like Khalil Iverson and Zak Showalter responding on Twitter with crying (from laughter) emojis. They could not get over how much bigger Hayes was than everyone else on the floor.
The video, showed in more quality below, shows Hayes towering over teammates and opponents on the court, looking a solid foot taller than all the other players.
The problem was that the video was from fourth grade, not second grade.
“That’s why old people like her shouldn’t have Twitter because they get carried away with things,” Hayes said about the video. “I was in fourth grade, so it’s a little less ridiculous.”
Early Lessons from Football
As one can imagine, Hayes was much bigger than his teammates and opponents throughout much of elementary and junior high school. His height and size were already in the making of an athlete, which is why it makes sense that Hayes started his athletic career on the football field.
Well, sort of.
As a wide receiver, Hayes was surely tall enough, but weighed too much. “He was the tallest and biggest one out there and parents had a problem with it,” Mama Davis said.
Accordingly, Hayes had to sit out school football in the third grade. But, his parents credit that football season and the following one as an instrumental point of his development as an individual and leader.
Standing on the sidelines during games, most third graders would just stand there and goof around. Albert Davis had other plans, and delivered some words of wisdom for his son.
“I told him you’re standing on the sidelines,” Albert Davis recalled. “Pay attention to the things going on, not just your position. Learn all the positions and just learn the game. The next year he came out, he was the captain of the team. That kind of started his personality – his knack for learning – and being intrigued by learning and how things work.”
A (Literally) Big Basketball Star
When football ended in third grade, Hayes started playing basketball at the YMCA. The tallest kid on the court, Hayes was not exactly the most cerebral player, according to Albert. “When he started, he wasn’t very good,” Davis admitted. “But he began to get more and more serious about it and learning the game. He wanted to be better at it.”
Hayes began playing up a year in basketball, as his team won championships and he set records. The most notorious story that his parents told me was when Nigel and his father had a nice little $50 bet that Hayes would not score 40 points in a junior high game.
As Mama Davis recalled, “The so-called entrepreneur he is, he scored 48.”
Whitmer High School
In high school, Hayes played football for three years, but he was always more serious about basketball. His daily routine would start at 6:00 AM when he would go to school to shoot. He would then go to class, followed by football practice. After that and some dinner, Hayes would go immediately over to the gym to do more shooting. Throw in exams and studying, and Hayes barely had any leisure time.
“That’s just what he did all the time,” Mama Davis said. “But after junior year, he decided to focus solely on basketball.”
When Hayes moved to the Washington Local school district in Toledo, OH, where the family has called home since he was in fifth grade, coaches at the high school level were already watching him. Still, Hayes’ parents say they did not realize how gifted their son was until the 8th grade.
At Whitmer High School, Hayes averaged 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Junior year, his points went down to 13.8, but rebounding went up to 9.0. In his last season at Whitmer, Hayes was named to the Associated Press’s All-State Team in Ohio, averaging 16.2 points and 8.8 rebounds.
“When he got to high school, it was like he’s finally here,” Mama Davis explained. “It was basically his team and he had a ball with them.”
To watch Hayes’ full fourth through 12 grade video created by Mama Davis, click here.
Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris, who led the charge in recruiting Hayes, recalled the process of getting the 6’8″ forward to the Badgers.
“We saw him really early, and we thought physically alone – his physical tools – would be something that we could use, particularly in the year we were going to be losing Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz, and Jared Berggren,” Paris explained. “We knew he was a good player. The more we watched him and the better he got, there was more and more fanfare around him.”
But Paris and the Wisconsin coaches knew that Hayes’ big state school, Ohio State, would be a challenge if Thad Matta and his staff decided to go after Hayes. As Hayes’ stock grew, the Buckeyes did in fact go after him, especially considering Hayes’ family is Buckeyes fans and his brother Kenny played football there before transferring to Toledo in 2012. They offered Hayes home visits and called him in for official visits, but Hayes and his family stayed loyal to Wisconsin.
“It’s a real testament to his character and the character of his family and that they were very loyal and committed to the fact that we had been there for so long and that we had developed such a great relationship,” Paris said. “And for the parents also, they could foresee us taking care of him the way that they would if they were able to be here too.”
Responsibility as a Wisconsin Basketball Player
The people who distract him on the way to class when he is on the phone with his mom are usually fans shouting “Nigel, Nigel!” Hayes is one of the most recognizable people on campus, which is why everybody always stops him on the street to take pictures or yell his name. They have seen him in the “Hayes for Days” videos his freshman year as Nigel Burgundy or on the court during Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four seasons.
But, in these situations, if you asked Nigel even last semester, he would tell you that he used to put his hood up to try to go unnoticed.
“Actually that’s how I am too,” Mama Davis explained. “I don’t like people. It’s kind of weird to think that of me because I’m so vocal.”
Hayes has never had a problem being independent, and he would never be described as a follower. But, he has been working on embracing his role on campus, aided by some encouragement from NBA legend Kobe Bryant and former Badgers forward Mike Bruesewitz.
“He watched how Kobe interacted with his fans, it helped him see that this is what you have to do,” Nigel’s mom said. “It’s part of the position you’re in. That letter that Mike Bruesewitz wrote was good because it helped Nigel realize that you want to put that hood up or you want to be left alone, but it can’t be that way because you are a Wisconsin basketball player and that’s what’s expected of you.”
Hayes may not love all of the people, but it is really because he does not want to be treated differently than anybody else. At the end of the day, Hayes and his teammates are just like the rest of the college students that attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, they just happen to play basketball.
He enjoys making people laugh, which is where all of the charisma comes from in front of the cameras. People may think he does it all for attention, but that is just his personality. The truth is that he is great with people; there is a reason he is the most requested person in the Badgers Give Back community service program.
Hayes has excelled in the classroom his entire life. His parents never had to get up on him about getting his homework done or studying.
In college, studying is what Hayes does in his spare time. He does not like to go out with the other guys; he would rather study. A business major, Hayes likes to stay ahead in his studies, but sometimes it can be really tough when basketball season hits crunch time. For example, he recently woke up at 1:15 AM to study for an exam, which shows the grueling schedule of a basketball player, but also his dedication to graduating with good grades.
“It was definitely important to me because he knows I want him to get that degree,” Mama Davis said. “School has always been important to him, or else he wouldn’t have worked to keep his grades up. He cares about it. It’s important to him. But I think basketball is just a little bit more important for him to be great. I guess if he was struggling in school that would be a different story. He puts his all into being great and getting better.”
Nigel Being Nigel
As a role model in the classroom, a leader on the basketball court, and an active individual in the community, Hayes just likes to be himself. His unique personality and interests do not impact how he goes about his life.
Hayes’ family will tell you that Nigel is the same Nigel at school as he is at home in Toledo. With his parents, Kenny and two sisters, Alaya and Alana, Nigel can be a bit crazier at home for obvious reasons. “He gets on our nerves sometimes and everything, but he loves his family,” Mama Davis said.
When Hayes comes home, he typically lets a few people know. However, he does not like to go out because everyone knows him. “One time he went to the mall and that was just the worst thing ever,” Mama Davis explained. “We usually just stay home and clown in the house.”
Hayes may be a Mama’s boy, but he is more importantly a family man.
“His outlook is if his family is happy about whatever he’s doing then he’s fine with it,” Mama Davis continued. “He’s not worrying so much about what other people think and what they say.”
“If he’s making us proud, then it’s all good.”
PHOTOS: Nigel Hayes through the years.
Special thank you to Talaya and Albert Davis for taking considerable time to assist in this project, especially Talaya for the photos and videos. And of course thank you to Nigel Hayes for his openness to letting me do this story.