Life in basketball's fast lane hasn't been easy for Elvin Hayes Jr., who inherited the name but neither the height nor the ability of the third-leading scorer in NBA history.
His father was one of the sport's all-time greats at the University of Houston and in 16 NBA seasons. Elvin Jr. labors in obscurity as a little-used, walk-on freshman guard at tiny St. Francis College, which has fallen on hard basketball times of late.
The elder Hayes battled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and mighty UCLA in one of basketball's most titanic struggles in 1968. His son battles for playing time on a young team that is 1-4 against the likes of Kent State and Loyola, Md.
What father and son share is a love for the game and a competitiveness that St. Francis Coach Kevin Porter says has driven Elvin Jr. to continue a career that will never reach the star status achieved by his dad.
"I tell everyone, 'I inherited the name, I didn't inherit the genes,' " said Elvin Jr., 18.
"My dad was a great player, but he more or less had to play in order to go to college. Because of his success, he gave my family a good life and I don't have to play . . . but I do because I enjoy the game. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I just play for myself, for the sheer enjoyment."
Elvin Jr. landed at St. Francis, located 60 miles east of Pittsburgh in quaint Loretto, Pa., because of his desire to play Division I basketball and his friendship with Porter. The two met when Porter and the elder Hayes were teammates with the NBA's Washington Bullets. Elvin Jr. was one of the team's ballboys.
Porter, a St. Francis graduate, is the godfather to the younger Hayes' son, Ethan.
"But I don't think I'm here just because of my father," Elvin Jr. said. "I felt this was a good place for me to learn, to develop a good personal relationship with my coach, which I wanted. I wanted to go where I could play and have no pressure and to get individual attention in the classroom."
Although he is six inches shorter than his father, 6-foot-3 Elvin Jr. saw his own career take off two years ago. He averaged 10 points and six rebounds a game as Houston Memorial High School reached the Texas state finals, and college recruiters began to take interest.
"We didn't think we had a chance for him, that he'd want to come this far east," Porter said.
But a summertime playground accident resulted in a pinched sciatic nerve and torn back muscles, and Elvin Jr.'s senior season was a virtual wipeout.
"My quickness and jumping ability weren't there, and a lot of people who were recruiting me pulled off," he said.
By the time Porter learned Hayes was available, St. Francis had no scholarships available. So Hayes agreed to pay his own way.
"He's not going to play very much this season," Porter said. "He's adjusting from playing power forward in high school to shooting guard, but he's not a bad ballplayer. He has a good jump shot and releases the ball just like his dad. Right now, we're working on his confidence."
Elvin Jr. has had to adjust not only to a new position, but a remarkably different social atmosphere. Loretto has few blacks--"The social life is zero," Porter said--and the wintertime temperature often dips to zero.
Hayes, a 'B' student who wants to become a broadcaster, also must cope with unrealistic expectations from fans familiar with his famous father.
"You can't fold under the pressure or the expectations," Elvin Jr. said. "Most people expect so much out of you, to turn games around by yourself. But even if your dad is in the crowd, he's not going to help you stick in that jumper or that free throw.
"Sometimes it gets to you, but I know what I'm capable of doing. I just know I've got to go out on the court and give 110 percent. At first I played because my dad was a good player. Now I'm playing for me."
Their basketball careers took different paths, but the academic pursuits of father and son merged this fall. The elder Hayes, 39, returned to the University of Houston to finish work on the degree he never obtained 18 years ago.
"Am I proud of my dad for going back to school? Definitely," Elvin Jr. said. "He is a very determined man. I'm sure it was hard for him at the clinics and engagements he does to tell kids to stay in school and get a degree when he didn't. That gives me all the more incentive to get mine."