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Wisconsin basketball: Nigel Hayes to return for senior season

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The Badgers' expectations for 2017 go sky-high as their star forward decides to return for his senior season.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The waiting game in the NBA draft process has been hanging over Wisconsin Badgers fans' heads since Nigel Hayes decided to test the process and enter his name as eligible. While he did have impressive moments at the combine, the consensus among draft watchers was that Hayes needed to return to Madison for his senior season.

That said, with the deadline for a decision coming on Wednesday, we were coming down to the last minute. Alas, Wisconsin fans can finally breathe easily -- Hayes will be back for his senior season. The decision was first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal's Jim Polzin and later confirmed by Hayes's mother on Tuesday evening.

It was a longer process than expected, as the teams that had Hayes in for workouts were telling him that he was ready for the league right now, and while the NBA promise of being draftable does tend to be a risk if the consensus among the watchers saw a fringe second-round prospect, it did allow Hayes to continue having workouts. For Hayes, it was a proper usage of the draft process.

For Wisconsin, the expectations for 2016-17 are now sky-high. Hayes's return means the Badgers' entire rotation that was a bad minute away from getting to the Elite Eight is back and a favorite for the Big Ten championship. If Hayes can return to the efficiency of his sophomore shooting form, there's a chance for another season where the Badgers play a game or two in April.

Wisconsin officially confirmed Hayes's return Tuesday night. Here's the official release:

Nigel Hayes to return to Wisconsin for senior season

2016 First-Team All-Big Ten player back for final campaign

May 24, 2016

MADISON, Wis. – Nigel Hayes, a first-team All-Big Ten honoree and member of two Final Four teams for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, has decided to withdraw from the 2016 NBA Draft and will return to school for his senior season with the Badgers in 2016-17.

"Getting the opportunity to gather information about the NBA and visit with professionals at that level was a really valuable experience for me," Hayes said. "Playing in the NBA still remains an important goal for me, but that can wait another year. I’m excited to get back to work to pursue that dream, as well as the dream of getting my degree and helping my teammates, my brothers, bring a championship to Wisconsin."

"I’m proud of Nigel for going through the process. It’s not easy to put yourself out on display over the course of a month," Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. "I know it helped him with his decision, but also it will make him a better player and leader for our team."

A preseason All-American pick and consensus All-Big Ten selection, Hayes started all 35 games last season and finished the regular season tied for fifth in the Big Ten averaging 16.5 points, plus 5.8 rebounds and a team-high 3.1 assists per game. After earning the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year award as a freshman in 2013-14, the Toledo, Ohio, native started all 40 games for the Badgers in 2014-15 and earned third-team All-Big Ten honors. A two-time academic All-Big Ten honoree, Hayes became one of the most endearing figures in college basketball during UW’s repeat run to the Final Four and the national championship game in 2015.

Hayes has played in 113 career games at Wisconsin, including 75 starts. Just the fifth player in program history to accumulate 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists, Hayes joined Michael Finley as the only Badgers in program history to surpass those milestones by their junior seasons.