Dylan Hay might have been born with a basketball in his hands.
The first basketball camp he attended, his father, Cobbler head coach TJ Hay said in jest, was before he could walk.
Of course, neither is really true, but it almost seems that way for the Rapid City Central senior, who will play his last three games for not only the Cobblers, but for his father this weekend at the Class AA boys’ state basketball tournament in Sioux Falls. Central opens with Douglas Thursday at 2 p.m. MDT.
Dylan is a typical gym rat.
“I've never had to drag him to the gym,” TJ said. “There are some times in the summer where he is like, ‘let’s go shoot.’ I’m tired and he kind of guilts me into going to the gym. Still, his senior year, he is in two or three times a week, in the gym by himself shooting.“
Dylan remembers dribbling the basketball when his dad was coaching at Stevens; he remembers playing with the Raider players then at about four or five years of age. TJ started coaching his team in the third grade.
“He’s been my coach for my whole life,” Dylan said. “I’ve never experienced anybody else coaching me."
Father and son watch a lot of game film together and a lot of games on the television. They’re not just basketball fans when they do so.
“We’ll be watching college games and he’ll notice something,” TJ said. “I try to stress to all of our kids, when you are watching a game, don’t watch as a spectator, watch to learn something and get better. He has a good eye for that.”
TJ admits that he probably gets on his son more than other players during practice and games, although he tries to tell himself not to.
“He takes it and the players know that when I get mad and get on them, they know it was something. But he does really well," he said. "He gives me that look once in a while, but I had a coach tell me years ago that you are really lucky when you get to coach your son in high school, and I have been.”
Dylan, a starter with the varsity since his sophomore season, laughed when he said his mother, Traci, is on him just as much as his dad, so his grandmother, Jean Hay, is his go-to buffer.
“Grandma is the one that gets on him,” he said. “She knows usually when he is on me too much and she gets mad at him.”
Dylan is planing to play basketball in college. Just how will he handle playing for another coach?
“It’s going to be bittersweet,” he said.
In the meantime, there are three more games they will play together, and the goal is to play in the final game of the tournament Saturday night. It all starts Thursday afternoon against Douglas.
“They know that Thursday is the biggest game of their high school careers,” TJ Hay said. "That is how we hope they approach it.”
It’s been an outstanding season for the Cobblers, 17-3, and the No. 2 seed in the tournament. They have been ranked first in the state this season and have split two epic games in front of massive crowds with Rapid City Stevens.
TJ Hay senses a different attitude from his players preparing for this tournament than the 2016 state tournament, the last one the Cobblers played in.
“A lot of these kids played two years ago in Sioux Falls, and I think that year they were just happy to be there,” TJ Hay said. “Here, they want to get some things accomplished. I don’t think they are feeling more pressure; our practices have been the same as they have been in the last month. Just like Spearfish, we told the kids that if they want to win the state championship, every game has to be the state championship game. Our practices at this point have been really good.”
Early in the season, Central beat Douglas 77-70.
“Both teams are far better than they were then, and they (Douglas) had a huge win last week,” TJ Hay said. “Our kids have been really focused. They are not looking by anyone by any means.”
Dylan Hay leads the team in scoring at 14.1 points a game, followed by senior guard Kailleb Walton-Blanden at 13.8. The guard tandem dishes the ball at about the same pace, with Hay averaging 4.4 assists a game and Walton-Blanden just under 4.0.
Senior Cameron Hall, the team’s top outside threat, is scoring 9.8 points a game, while their big man inside, 6-foot-6-inch Elijah Williams, is averaging 7.8 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
If Central gets past Douglas, the Cobblers will face the winner of the Lincoln and Yankton Friday at 7:15 p.m.