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Former Bison, Spuds forward Harden-Hayes ready for UNC-Wilmington after unexpected transfer portal detour

Former North Dakota State forward Maleeck Harden-Hayes committed to UNC-Wilmington after he first committed to Kansas City this offseason before a coaching change for the Roos.

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Former North Dakota State forward Maleeck Harden-Hayes (23) has committed UNC-Wilmington after entering the transfer portal this offseason.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — Maleeck Harden-Hayes got a double dose of the transfer portal this offseason. The Former North Dakota State forward committed to Kansas City about a month ago before Roos head men’s basketball coach Billy Donlon decided to take a new job soon after.

The Moorhead High School graduate decided to re-opened his recruitment. Earlier this month, Harden-Hayes then found a new program to call home, committing to UNC-Wilmington.

“It was definitely a process that I wasn’t expecting, being settled in ready to go to Kansas City and then having to have to go through the whole process again was kind of stressful because I was ready to be done with it, but it was good for me to talk to other schools and find the right fit for me,” Harden-Hayes.

The 6-foot-7 Harden-Hayes has two years of eligibility remaining after playing three seasons for the Bison. He played in 75 games, including 22 starts at NDSU, averaging 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

Donlon, who was the head coach at Kansas City for three seasons, left the program to become the associate head coach at Clemson for head coach Brad Brownwell.

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“It was definitely a surprise to me,” Harden-Hayes said. “He decided he had other opportunities. It’s definitely good for him and I’m excited for him that he’s doing what he wants to do. I have no hard feelings.”

Harden-Hayes said he considered remaining with Kansas City, but decided looking at new options was in his best interest after Donlon left the program.

After he re-opened his recruitment, Harden-Hayes said he was pursued by primarily a new group of schools than his first time around leading up to his KC commitment.

“It kind of felt like I was starting all over,” Harden-Hayes said. “It was super fun, but obviously a lot of stress because time is ticking. I needed to make the right decision in a short amount of time.”

Harden-Hayes played in 30 games, making one start, this past season at NDSU. He averaged 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds while playing nearly 17 minutes per game. A Colonial Athletic Association member, Wilmington posted a 27-9 record last season and made it to the CBI tournament finals. UNC-Wilmington shared the CAA regular-season championship along with Towson.

After he decided to move on from KC, Harden-Hayes said UNC-Wilmington emerged quickly as an attractive option.

“It was a school that caught my eye right away,” Harden-Hayes said. “I was interested in them right off the bat.”

Part of the reason Harden-Hayes initially chose Kansas City was to be closer to family in Iowa. Now, he’s headed to the East Coast to continue his college career. He said he does also have family in North Carolina and South Carolina.

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“I wanted to go to a school closer to Iowa,” Harden-Hayes said. “I thought that UNCW was the best fit for me regardless of location. I wanted to explore something new and being on the East Coast would be something out of my comfort zone, but it would be good for me.”

Harden-Hayes said style of play was one the things that he liked about UNC-Wilmington.

“They play with a lot of energy and a lot of joy and use athleticism and length and I fit those categories well so I think I can bring a winning culture to that group and fit in very well,” Harden-Hayes said. “I would say a lot more exciting being in a whole new conference. I think I will do just fine getting comfortable with that.”

Harden-Hayes plans to head to Wilmington this week after finishing the spring semester at NDSU.

“I’m excited to get to work,” Harden-Hayes said.

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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