by Chris Haynes / @ChrisBHaynes
SACRAMENTO—After five dominating years in the Korean Basketball League, 31-year-old Aaron Haynes has elected to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA for the ‘13-14 season.
The 6-8 small forward/off-guard played for the SK Knights during the ’12-13 season and took home the regular-season KBL MVP award by averaging 19.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He also shot 56 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe.
Haynes is the first and only American player to have won back-to-back KBL scoring titles (‘10-11—23.3 ppg, ‘11-12—27.6 ppg).
This past season, he anchored the Knights, a team that wasn’t picked to make it to the playoffs in pre-season polls, all the way to the KBL Finals, but was swept by powerhouse Mobis Phoebus in four games.
In the days following the loss, Haynes consulted with his wife, Kara, and the two agreed that he had accomplished all that there was to accomplish at the KBL level, having led Mobis Phoebus—the very team that recently swept him—to a KBL championship in the ‘09-10 season.
They came to an agreement. It was time for him to make a serious push toward competing at the highest level of basketball.
“I feel like it’s now or never,” Haynes explained to SLAMonline. “It’s a good opportunity for me to pursue the NBA right now that I’m in my prime. I have achieved everything in Korea and I’ve never really pursued the NBA route seriously, never had a workout or anything. I always believed I could play at the NBA level and now it’s time for me to prove it to NBA teams.”
Haynes knows the odds are against him. Although he’s at the top of his game physically and mentally, he realizes some teams might be reluctant to give him a shot because of his age.
But he personally doesn’t see it as a detriment.
“For one, I don’t have the wear and tear on my body like most NBA players my age do. I haven’t had any surgeries either,” he answered. “And two, I look at my age as a positive because my knowledge of the game is a lot better than when I first came out of college. I’m at a place where I understand my role. Whatever a team needs, whether it be my willingness to play defense on point guards on up to small forwards, or knocking down the outside shot, I want to go in to a workout and show them I’m willing to do it all. I have no ego. I’m just hungry.”
To be on the safe side, just in case his age is viewed as a negative factor, he had to find a new agent to represent him. Not just any agent, but Larry Williams of Union Sports Agency (USA), who had experience in placing players who were not in their early 20s, in front of NBA general mangers and coaches.
Williams represents Atlanta Hawks reserve power forward Ivan Johnson, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Johnson was a 27-year-old rookie when he signed with the Hawks in December of 2011.
Getting Johnson signed at a mature age was a secondary obstacle for Williams. The first hurdle was convincing teams that Johnson wouldn’t be disruptive.
Prior to joining the Hawks, Johnson competed against Haynes in the KBL for two seasons from 2008-2010 before the KBL banned him forever for flipping the bird at a referee during the Finals.
Somehow, someway, Williams was able to secure a handful of NBA workouts that ultimately landed Johnson an NBA contract. That was exactly the level of expertise and creativeness Haynes was looking for in representation.
“I just thought it was the perfect fit,” Haynes said. “Larry knows the league I played in and he knows the NBA. The way he handled Ivan’s deal with both of us being older, was something that won me over. I don’t have the baggage that Ivan had, but if I was going to get a shot at the League, I figured Larry could make it happen.”
Williams says the transition to cracking into the League will be a much smoother process for Haynes being that he’s mature and fixated on getting stops.
“Aaron is a great kid that comes from a great family,” Williams said. “He made his mark in Korea by doing a little bit of everything and he knows that at the next level, it’s about him buckling down on defense. He’s focused on dominating that side of the ball and I think he’ll surprise teams with his offense, too. But defense is his calling card.”
Haynes says his game is often compared to Tayshaun Prince of the Memphis Grizzlies and Thabo Sefolosha of the Oklahoma City Thunder. With his wiry frame and length, the 205 pound left-hander feels he can step in right away and provide a positive impact on the court, off the court and in the locker room.
An uphill battle awaits him, but he’s up for the challenge.
“I’m ready to compete,” Haynes said. “That’s what I want GM’s and coaches to know. I’m a slasher, a consistent jump-shooter and someone who plays on both ends of the floor. I have a high basketball IQ that allows me to pick up plays on the fly in order to execute on the court. I’m just asking for a chance to show I belong. Just one shot.”