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Local hoops star gives back

Photo by Kevin Lewter
Photo by Kevin Lewter

Photo by Kevin Lewter

By Bill Sorrell
J.B. Hayes had a brainchild.
After recovering from surgery for a benign brain tumor, Hayes began to think of ways to give back to those who helped him get back on his feet and eventually to competitive basketball.
Buckets For Brain Tumors became his fundraising goal. What started last year when Hayes was a junior at Simsbury (Conn.) High School was continued on Tuesday at Collierville High School where Hayes is a senior and a forward on the basketball team.
More than $3,345 has been raised through the sale of custom-designed T-shirts with the words “Buckets 4 Brain Tumors” and “Stay Strong” in a circle around a star with a basketball in the center. All proceeds go to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation in Asheville, N.C.
“My parents (Eric and Jenny Hayes) and I were talking. We wanted to do something to give back to the doctors who helped with my surgery and also to try to help others who were in a worse condition than I was,” said Hayes, who found a a web site that designs shirts. Last year more than $5,000 was raised.
“The focus of the foundation is to help children and families who have been affected by brain tumors to be able to live more comfortably and also to help find more cures and funding for more research to go into preventing child brain tumors from occurring,” said Hayes, 17.
Stay strong are words that Hayes took to heart and words that he wears on wristbands.
That is what his father told him during his hospital stay and recovery.
“Staying strong mentally is going to help you keep a positive attitude. With a positive attitude that made me feel better even though physically I didn’t feel good. Mentally I was able able to feel good about myself,” he said.
Before Christmas 2012, Hayes was playing in a varsity basketball at Simsbury and had concussion-like symptoms after.
“They thought I had hit my head and had a concussion. I never hit my head throughout the course of the game,” he said.
The next two days he was having “really bad” headaches. Later he began vomiting. As he was walking to the car on Dec. 27 to go to the doctor, he passed out in his kitchen and was unconscious for almost 10 minutes.
At Hartford’s Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, an MRI found the tumor.
Hayes was shocked.
“I honestly couldn’t believe just a week earlier I had been playing in a basketball game and now I am lying in a hospital bed,” he recalled. “I couldn’t open my eyes because my head hurt so much.”
After surgery on Jan. 3, 2013, he was bed ridden in the hospital for three weeks. He lost 40 pounds. He was told that he had been a day away from chemotherapy.
Doctors inserted a plate and six screws behind the cerebrum. Muscles and nerves in his neck had to be moved in surgery.
“They are a little out of whack,” said Hayes, who continues to have pins and needles feelings in his neck and sensitivity to heat or cold.
Hayes, then 15, had steroid treatments to avoid infections. He went through physical therapy to regain strength and balance in his legs and get acclimated to daily activities.
“When I first got out of the hospital it was a struggle to get from my bed to the bathroom. I couldn’t walk a straight line. I had to use a walker for awhile,” he said.
It would be summer 2013 before he felt like himself again.
Basketball motivated his recovery. He took baby steps on the court. He first goal was to play basketball with his friends.
The next step would be playing in an open gym. The next playing in tournaments. The time came when he was ready to play for his high school team.
However, there were questions. Would be able to be the same player after missing a year? Would he play scared?
Then came questions off-court. His father, an executive with Terminix, was transferred to Memphis.
Arriving in September 2014, a month after school started, he began his senior year wondering how he would fit in with a new team and would he make friends.
Hayes contacted Collierville basketball Head Coach Jonathan Mooneyham, who was impressed that Hayes’ would do that on his own instead of leaving it up to his parents.
Mooneyham found in Hayes, at 6-3 and 190 pounds, his biggest player who caught on quickly. He was the type of player Mooneyham looks for.
“J.B. is obviously a high character kid. That is what we look for in our program. When things aren’t going well or rolling your way, those are the kids who are going to fight and not give up. He is definitely one we can count on,” said Mooneyham.
Hayes provides a presence inside, although the Dragons run mainly a five-guard offense. He shoots well, screens well and rebounds with an intensity. He is averaging 11 points a game.
“He has added everything. He is a major key player. He is a team player,” said Collierville player Drew Andrews. “You can tell coming back from a brain tumor, he is a flat-out battler. He doesn’t back down from anything. He is determined and has the biggest heart of a guy I have ever played with in my life.”
Said Collierville guard Drew Van de Vuurst, “We are a small team. He adds more size and more aggression that we need down low. It’s been a big help. When he first came I didn’t think that he would be a shooter but he’s been knocking down some threes for us and that is always good.
“Knowing that he had a brain tumor and went through everything and that he is out here playing basketball with us in a super competitive league like Memphis and keeping up with all of us impresses me.”
Collierville senior Brett Warner, who has signed to play at Delta State, said, “We took him in. He is like a brother to us now. I know that he had to fight and that shows something about his character and not just that he is a hard worker.
“Not just anybody can overcome that,” he continued. “Basketball is a physical sport. What he has done proved to everybody that you can get back up. You don’t look at him and think he has been through something so hard and tragic at that age. There is nothing that can stop him now. He has been at the bottom and he has been at the top.”
Warner appreciates Hayes’ attitude.
“He doesn’t showboat. He doesn’t do things by himself. He feeds off the team and we feed off him. He has a lot of strengths. He has a great shot. He has the same shot every time no matter where he is on the court. He can drive the ball. He has the same rhythm. He is a great player and even better person off the court,” said Warner. “I have become good friends with him and I love spending time with him.”
Just as Hayes got started this season, he had a setback. In a Dec. 2 game against Bolton he was hit three times in the back of his head. The third time knocked him down.
“I got back up but I was really dizzy. I had blurry vision. My head was hurting really bad and I had an upset stomach,” said Hayes.
He was diagnosed with a concussion and missed eight games.
The concussion made Mooneyham cautious about Hayes’ play but “not overly cautious.” Mooneyham said that Hayes showed no hesitation in his play or any side effects.
“But when he takes a charge I am going to be a little more concerned. Knowing the kind of kid J.B. is, it will not affect his play. He is not going to think twice stepping in front of a guy or take a hit.”
Hayes said, “I am a competitor. I like to win but I hate losing more.”
Hayes’ role model, former Purdue basketball player and Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and 2010 Chris Kramer, provided inspiration.
“We love anything Purdue-sports wise. I remember the first time watching Purdue was when Chris Kramer was a senior and a big 6-4, 250-pound guy. I remember one day he broke his nose and he came back in the game in the second half wearing a big mask and his nose wasn’t even set right yet. I remember saying I want to play with that
intensity and that motivation to win like he does. He is my role model because of how hard he plays and how much desire he wanted to win and how hard he worked,” said Hayes.
Inspiration has also come through his parents.
“My mom is the one who really inspires. When I was in the hospital not once did I see her cry or break down or get emotional,” he recalled. “She stayed by me the entire time and really was the one who made sure that I kept a positive attitude and that I kept my head up and focused on getting myself back to every day life.
“She is the one who taught me the importance of appreciating your family and your friends and appreciating everything life has given you,” said Hayes, who has a younger brother, Nicholas, who plays on Collierville’s freshman team.
On his right wrist, J. B., whose initials stand for James Bullock, wears a Stay Strong wristband with the dates 10-3-14, the date of a surgery that Tiffany Pohl, the mother of his best friend, Jake Pohl, had for oral cancer.
Like a second mother to Hayes, she visited him in the hospital. Staying positive and strong were also her messages.
“God is not going to let you not get through this because you are too good of a person. He is testing you now so that you can come out an even better person,” said Hayes, who wears the Stay Strong 1-3-13 wristband on his left wrist.
“I remember Mrs. Pohl sitting by my hospital bed and she was praying for me. I remember if she can stay positive through her faith in God and her faith in the Bible, then there is a higher power watching over me.”
With a 4.2 grade-point-average, Hayes has been accepted to Rhodes and will major in bio-chemistry. He will also be on the Lynx basketball team.
He will have to have an MRI every year until he is 21. He “hopefully” will start his own foundation one day that deals with pediatric brain tumors.
“I have been through a lot with my brain tumor incident. I feel like that his has made me more understanding and more appreciative and given me a positive outlook on every day life. I feel like I was lucky to come out of this with no major side effects and no long-term medical issues that I have to live with the rest of my life,” said Hayes.
“I feel like that is a second chance and that I have the responsibility to make good of that second chance, to do something with my life that is going to help benefit others. I feel like that is my duty. I have been able to learn so much about myself and life in general. I am definitely not the same person after going through that, I am a better person.”

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