Column: Palisades coach Donzell Hayes is more than his brother’s keeper

Palisades coach Donzell Hayes talks to forward Caden Arnold.
(Steve Galluzzo / For The Times)

Hours before the Palisades High boys’ basketball team was set to play top-seeded View Park in a Los Angeles City Section Division I semifinal game Saturday, coach Donzell Hayes drove to his mother’s house near Crenshaw High. It’s his same routine every day. He comes to take care of his younger brother, Donte.

Hayes’ brother was shot in the head and shoulder 11 years ago as an 18-year-old near Crenshaw.

“Gang violence,” Hayes said. “Someone drove by and sprayed the alley.”

His brother was in a coma for nearly a year. Hayes would go to the hospital every day. Then his brother, who was partially paralyzed on his left side, spent 14 months in a nursing home.


Hayes graduated from college with a business degree and was working as a building inspector after setting school records playing basketball at Southwestern Oklahoma State. In one swift decision, he gave up his job to take care of his brother.

“Who better than your brother?” he said. “I trust myself more than others. I trusted I’d do a better job. It was a simple decision. It wasn’t difficult at all. It’s my brother.”

From dressing him in the morning to helping him learn to walk again, Hayes was his brother’s caretaker. Ironically, because he left his job, he had time to coach basketball.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “The universe works in a strange way. Had I not left, I wouldn’t have been able to coach.”

Gauchos defeat Granada Hills; Palisades takes down No. 1-seeded View Park

Feb. 22, 2020

Hayes took over as coach at his alma mater in 2016. He’s still taking care of his brother.

“He’s doing very well,” Hayes said. “We walk every day.”

It once took 90 minutes to walk the length of a house. Now it takes 15 minutes to walk by 10 houses.

“It was a test of faith for my entire family,” he said.

Kris Johnson, a former Palisades assistant whose son, Will, played for Hayes, said he admires Hayes’ commitment.


“This guy does it every single day,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing to witness and see how much love he has. His character as a man has inspired me.”

While playing for Palisades in 1996, Hayes and the Dolphins lost to Crenshaw in double overtime in the City semifinals.

“That moment, I learned at the end of the day, it’s just a game,” he said. “If you gave your all, you did everything you could. We don’t use lose; it’s learn.”

Palisades defeated View Park 44-35 to earn a spot in the Division I final against Harbor City Narbonne at L.A. Southwest College on Feb. 29. Graham Alphson scored 12 points and had 15 rebounds, and Caden Arnold had 11 points.

“The way he’s able to take care of his brother and us, that’s a lot of responsibility,” Arnold said. “It’s an inspiration.”

Westchester advances


Ed Azzam will get a chance to win a 15th City Section title after Westchester knocked off King/Drew 56-44 in an Open Division semifinal at L.A. Southwest College.

The Comets trailed 27-19 with 2:03 left in the second quarter, then reversed momentum, wiping out a six-point halftime deficit by increasing their defensive pressure, rebounding better and relying on strong guard play. TJ Wainwright and Joseph Johnson finished with 16 points each and Ky-Mani Pollard added 10 points.

“Coach got on me tonight,” Pollard said. “I decided I’m not backing down. I’m going to play the best defense in my life.”

Fidelis Okereke had 17 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks for King/Drew, which will compete in the state playoffs despite the loss.

Westchester has been inconsistent much of the season, but the Comets might be reaching peak form.

“We’re playing like the original Westchester — grit and toughness,” Pollard said.

Said Azzam, “They’re starting to listen and buy in. It’s taken them five months.”

Westchester will play Western League rival Fairfax for a third time this season to decide the Open Division championship. Fairfax defeated Birmingham 58-39. The Lions are 2-0 against Westchester this season. Justin Gladney and DJ Dudley each scored 18 points.