April 25, 2021
Hey, hey, Hayes: Mississippi State women’s basketball welcomes three Hayes sisters
How do the sisters’ stats stack up, and how might they contribute in Starkville?
The last time a Hayes sister played in the SEC, she won Sixth Woman of the Year as a freshman in 2017-18.
Anastasia Hayes looked to be well on her way to a decorated career for Tennessee after averaging 9.3 points and 3.5 assists per game that season. But the former top-10 recruit and Gatorade Tennessee Girls Player of the Year was dismissed from the program in August 2018 and subsequently transferred to Middle Tennessee State (MTSU).
Three years later, Anastasia is making her return to the SEC—and this time, she’s bringing reinforcements. She and two of her younger sisters, Aislynn and Alasia, all committed to Mississippi State on Apr. 8.
Anastasia, who will be a redshirt senior in 2021-22 with two years of eligibility remaining, and Aislynn, a rising junior, played the last two seasons together at MTSU, while Alasia, a rising sophomore, played at Notre Dame last season. All three are guards, and they are the oldest of Sherry and Arnett Hayes’ five children, who are collectively known as the A-Team. (Youngest siblings Acacia and Arnett Jr. also play basketball, giving the Hayeses a full starting lineup.)
The Hayeses grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and from a young age, Anastasia dreamed of wearing the distinctive orange of the University of Tennessee—but not necessarily playing for legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. Anastasia’s first sport was softball, and she pitched, played shortstop and hit leadoff, often using her speed to bunt for base hits.
In fact, Anastasia didn’t play basketball until middle school, when she saw an announcement about tryouts on a school bulletin board. She told the Daily News Journal in 2017 that she “just thought it would be fun, something else to do,” but the transition was rough at first.
“She could always outrun everybody,” Cliff Coleman, her former coach at Tennessee Team Pride, told ESPN in 2016. “But, in the beginning, she would get a steal and couldn’t score. She would bang the ball against the backboard.”
Yet Anastasia’s decision to play basketball became a pivotal moment for her and her sisters. “The two young ones, you could tell that they loved it and caught on to it earlier,” Arnett told BVM Sports last year. The A-Team started playing basketball in the family’s driveway, where things sometimes got heated but, according to Anastasia, “10 minutes later we’re fine.”
A few years later, the Hayeses began to arrive at Riverdale High School, and the girls’ basketball team became nearly unstoppable. From 2015-16 to 2017-18, the Warriors won three straight state championships and had a 102-5 record, including 34-0 in 2016-17 when Anastasia was a senior, Aislynn was a sophomore and Alasia was a freshman. In each championship run, a Hayes sister was named Most Outstanding Player.
Acacia entered the fold in 2018-19, giving Riverdale three Hayeses on the roster for the second time in three seasons. The freshman quickly became the starting shooting guard, sliding over from her natural point guard position to lead the team in scoring multiple times in her first seven games. She admitted that the new position was “a big adjustment” and credited her sisters for her early success.
“[They] have made me better mentally and tougher,” Acacia told The Commercial Appeal. “That’s been a big part. They always have confidence in me on and off the court.”
All four sisters became high-level Division I prospects, and early in Anastasia’s recruitment, the family expressed interest in a package deal. “It’s up to me, but it will be a family decision,” Anastasia said in 2016. “… I’d prefer to play with my sisters. I really hope we all go to the same school.” As of August 2016—when Anastasia was a rising senior and Acacia was starting seventh grade—all four sisters had scholarship offers from five SEC schools: Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Tennessee.
Tennessee seemed to have the inside track once Anastasia committed to the Lady Vols the following month. But after Anastasia was dismissed from the team, Sherry told the USA Today Network-Tennessee that none of the younger Hayeses would go there. Aislynn committed to MTSU in October 2018, and Anastasia announced her plans to transfer there just weeks later.
“I wanted them back together,” Arnett said of his two oldest children. “… Physically, socially, mentally, they’re better together than apart.”
They showed that this season in particular as MTSU’s top two scorers. They combined to average 40.5 points and 8.6 assists per game, and, according to CBB Analytics, 44% of their assisted baskets came off of passes from their sister. They were on the court together for 77% of the team’s minutes this season and were two of the biggest reasons why Middle Tennessee earned a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Their first-round matchup—against Tennessee, coincidentally—was Aislynn’s first career NCAA Tournament game and Anastasia’s third. Although the Lady Raiders lost that game, making the tournament meant a lot to the Hayeses. “Being there before is one thing, but doing it now with my teammates and my sister and everyone around me just makes it so much better,” Anastasia said before the game. “… My own sister, her getting to experience this, I’m just so happy for her.”
Alasia could have made it three Hayeses at MTSU last season, but she committed to Notre Dame before even taking an official visit to her hometown school. “Me and my sisters are like best friends, but … I’ve been familiar with the [Murfreesboro] area and playing with them my whole life. I just wanted something new,” Alasia said. “They did encourage that for me. They’re both so happy for me.”
However, Alasia would only play 13 games for the Fighting Irish, as she opted out of the season in January due to COVID-19 and subsequently announced that she would transfer.
Meanwhile, Acacia, a rising high school senior, is sounding a lot like Alasia as she weighs her college options. In January, she narrowed her list to eight, and neither MTSU nor Notre Dame made the cut. “I kind of want to get away and do my own thing,” she told the Daily News Journal. “I’m very independent.”
But could she change her mind, just as Alasia did when she transferred with her sisters? Acacia had Mississippi State in her final eight schools before her sisters entered the transfer portal. And with the NCAA giving every college player in 2020-21 an additional year of eligibility, Anastasia could still be playing when Acacia is a freshman, which could be another incentive to pick the Bulldogs.
Either way, Mississippi State is set to experience the “Hayes effect” for at least the next four years. “I am really excited to have Anastasia, Aislynn and Alasia on the team because they can bring a lot to the program, and they have won everywhere they’ve been,” Bulldogs head coach Nikki McCray-Penson said in the team’s announcement. “… Everywhere they have gone, they have impacted the team.”
Or, as espnW Hoopgurlz director Dan Olson put it in 2016, “To find a single player — whether they have sisters or not — as talented as Anastasia Hayes is a game-changer. Then you realize she has a sister, and another sister, and then another sister … The only other family in recent memory that comes close to this, or surpasses it, is the Ogwumike family.”
It may be several years before we can fully compare the Ogwumikes and the Hayeses, as the former are already playing professionally. But it’s not too soon to evaluate how the oldest three Hayeses’ college careers stack up against each other—and what the trio will bring to Mississippi State next season.
With three college seasons in the books, Anastasia has a built-in advantage over her younger sisters in this comparison. I usually compare seasons from the same point in players’ careers to remove that advantage, but in this case—with all three being 5’6 or 5’7 guards who can play fast and score in bunches—it’s interesting to look at Anastasia’s career as one indicator of how good her sisters could become, even though they get their points in different ways.
Anastasia leads the trio in points (17.4), assists (4.2) and steals (1.9) per game as well as field goal percentage (43.2%). The latter is because her shot chart (below, far left) looks like a center’s, with over 70% of her attempts coming in the paint last season. Defenses can theoretically play off of her because of her sub-25% 3-point shooting, but she still manages to elude defenders and create shots or draw fouls with her craftiness and speed. She has averaged over seven free throw attempts per game in her career, including 10.6 per game last season.
Aislynn’s shot chart (above, center) is essentially the opposite: nearly 58% of her shot attempts came from behind the arc last season, and she is a career 31.3% shooter from that distance. But she is not just a 3-point specialist: she has averaged 5.1 free throw attempts per game in her career and leads her sisters with 5.2 rebounds per game. As McCray-Penson put it in the team’s announcement, “Aislynn is a really good, well-rounded player, and she’s always played with a chip on her shoulder.”
In limited minutes last season, Alasia’s shot chart (above, far right) was more like Anastasia’s than Aislynn’s, but a high school evaluation of her suggests she can be a combination of the two. “Makes shots, rises on mid-range game jumper and delivers in the key,” Olson wrote. “Keeps the defense honest to the arc … scores in bunches in transition game; a thief on defense.” McCray-Penson called her “very deceptive” on the court and praised her shot-making and speed. In addition, Alasia’s free-throw shooting percentage (66.7%) is also slightly higher than her sisters’, which bodes well if she continues to hunt shots in the paint.
A few advanced statistics also help predict how the sisters’ games might translate to Mississippi State. Anastasia ranked in the 99th percentile of Division I players with a 32.4 player efficiency rating (PER), so she will likely remain at least moderately efficient in the SEC. “We are looking for her to come in and make an immediate difference,” McCray-Penson said.
Anastasia’s PER is especially remarkable given that she ranked fourth in the nation with a 35.7% usage rate, which means that over one-third of MTSU’s possessions when she was on the court ended with her shooting, going to the free-throw line or committing a turnover.
Though not as big a part of the offense as Anastasia, Aislynn ranked in the 67th percentile with a 21.5% usage rate and the 62nd percentile with a 15.5 PER last season. It would seem likely that their roles would decrease given that they are transferring from a mid-major to a Power 5 school—but Mississippi State is slated to return just four of the ten players who played at least 100 minutes last season, so there are several holes to fill.
One of the few returners is 6’5 Jessika Carter, a top-10 finalist last season for the Katrina McClain Award for the nation’s best power forward. Luckily, all three Hayeses are also willing passers: Anastasia’s 34.0% assist rate ranked in the 99th percentile last season, while Aislynn’s 17.7% ranked in the 77th percentile. Alasia did not play enough minutes to qualify for the rankings, but her 19.2% assist rate suggests that she could be a reliable contributor if she improves her 34.1% turnover rate.
“It’s almost absurd, the talent level in the family,” Riverdale High School coach Randy Coffman said in 2016. “They all have different skill sets. Each has different strengths and weaknesses. … I can’t imagine, as a parent, having four girls with that kind of talent.”
Yet Anastasia and Alasia both cited McCray-Penson’s ability to develop players as a reason why they chose Mississippi State. “She will push me to my limits,” Alasia said. “… I want to win a national championship, and I know it’s possible to do, especially with [McCray-Penson] coaching me. I know she is going to make me a better player.”
“[McCray-Penson] will help me become the player that I know I can be,” Anastasia added. “But what excites me the most is that I get to play college basketball with not just one of my little sisters, but two of them.”
Or even all three, if Anastasia sticks around in 2022-23. The world already saw what three Hayes sisters could do at Riverdale, and four could certainly shake up the SEC. Especially if, as the family has suggested, Acacia ends up surpassing her sisters.
“She’s really good,” Anastasia said of Acacia in 2016. “… She may end up the best out of all of us.”
Families previously featured in this series include the sisters in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the Hulls, the VanDerveers, the Cavinders, Stephanie Mavunga and Jeanette Pohlen-Mavunga, the McGees, the twins in the West Coast Conference, the Vanderquigs, Erica McCall and DeWanna Bonner, Chennedy Carter and Jia Perkins, the Joneses, the Samuelsons, the Ogwumikes (Part 1 and Part 2), and the Mabreys.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.