There wasn’t a lick of doubt in Killian Hayes’ voice when he laid out his international basketball intentions.
“My plan is to join the France team this summer to play the World Cup and hopefully for the Paris 2024 Olympics next year,” the 21-year-old Detroit Pistons point guard said to Olympics.com at the NBA Paris Game last month.
France, bound for the 2023 FIBA World Cup having wrapped up their final qualifying game with a 70-63 victory over Lithuania in Arena Loire, finished their 14-month-long campaign on top of their group.
Their 10-2 win-loss record across the qualification process not only underlined their future medal credentials at the tournament to be co-hosted in Japan, Philippines and Indonesia later this year but also breathed new life into growing expectations that this French basketball generation could be golden.
With a crop of experienced NBA players featuring household names including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier and burgeoning new talents fronted by Victor Wembanyama, an overwhelming feeling reigns that Les Bleus are a team destined to achieve big things, and as a player recognised for his raw talent – having been picked seventh in the 2020 Draft – French-American Hayes is a player eager to be a part of the group.
But the young talent, yet to make his senior debut for France, knows that even with an NBA contract he still has to build his case:
“I have to earn my place,” Hayes said. “Nothing is given.”
Killian Hayes: A French candidate for 2023 FIBA World Cup and Paris 2024
So, how might Hayes fit into the French basketball picture?
Taking him outside the context of an ailing Detroit Pistons side sitting on a 15-47 record (as of Tuesday 28 February) it is clear the Frenchman’s own trajectory is one of progression.
Initially hampered by injury in his first two NBA seasons, Hayes, now in his third season, has become a staple figure in the Michigan franchise.
Capitalising on the absence of injured Cade Cunningham, the Frenchman has become the leading point guard for his side, starting 39 games and producing 10-point-plus outings on 25 of those occasions.
He is currently averaging 9.5 points, 5.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds a game, showing a significant uptick in form from last season.
But perhaps more importantly for his international ambitions, if one was to compare Hayes’ NBA with those that currently wear the French jersey, it’s clear the Pistons man is keeping pace.
He leads all French players in most assists per game, sits second in scoring and has the second-most playing time across the Atlantic, behind Minnesota Timberwolves’ ‘Stifle Tower’ Gobert.
Dwane Casey on Killian Hayes’ French national team ambitions: “I’m going to campaign for Killian”
One person backing Hayes for international duty is Pistons Head Coach, Dwane Casey.
“I’m going to campaign for Killian,” the former NCAA basketball player and coach said at the 2023 NBA Paris Game.
“I hope he makes the Olympic team because I think he will be a good point guard for the team and it will help him. And I think he’s talented enough to play it.
“Killian has grown so much in his three years. He came over to Detroit at an early age from the Euroleague and had to feel his way in, develop his way in. And he’s done a great job.
“He’s shooting the ball, probably about 38 per cent right now, so his game has really evolved into a big, big-time NBA point guard. And he’s not a finished product. He’s going to keep growing, keep getting better, and we’re glad that he’s part of the Detroit program.”
If, as Casey suggests, Hayes’ strongest growth area is as a point guard then his emergence in the position could prove timely for France.
Not only did they lack creativity at times during last year’s EuroBasket tournament where they finished as runners-up, but with Nando De Colo already 35 years old, the Pistons guard could be a suitable heir with the Olympic Games Paris 2024 looming.
Then, there is the small fact that the former Cholet and Ulm player has experience winning for France at the junior levels.
Hayes is a U16 European champion and U17 world silver medallist and, crucially, played decisive roles in both tournaments. For his efforts, the son of DeRon Hayes received MVP honours in the continental competition and was named to the All-Tournament team at the global event.
They were also accolades that raised his stock ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft.
With 20 regular season NBA games left for the Pistons, there is still plenty time for Hayes to continue progressing and show French head coach Vincent Collet what he might be able to do if given the opportunity.
Having already shown substantial improvement in all areas across the court, Hayes is proving that ‘the best is yet to come’ is not just a hope but a guarantee. And while it’s a definite for Detroit, it could also be for the French national team.