SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward is a guy who sprouted nearly a foot in high school, who envisions making a living on courts like the one at EnergySolutions Arena and whose Horizon League team is a win away from the Final Four.
And he comes from a small Indiana town called Brownsburg, with the claim to fame of having one of the school gyms used for the filming of the movie "Hoosiers."
No wonder the advice Butler's rising star likes to give kids is an inspiring: "Dream big!"
That media-guide counsel seems to be the sophomore's own mantra and an unofficial motto of his fellow Bulldogs, who dreamed about marching this far into the Madness long before today's Elite Eight showdown with Kansas State became a reality.
"After you have the dreams," Hayward said, "I think you have to work hard to reach those dreams, and I think we kind of embrace that.
"Someone's got to (get to) the national championship and win, so why couldn't it be us?"
Hayward is one of the main reasons No. 5 seed Butler can ponder cutting down nets this afternoon with a win over the second-seeded Wildcats and a week from Monday after the NCAA finals near its campus in Indianapolis.
The rangy Naismith Trophy finalist has led the Bulldogs in scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg) during their 23-game winning streak.
And that was while Hayward, an inside and outside threat, struggled through an admitted shooting slump over the past month or so.
In the very Sweet 16 win over Syracuse, Hayward had 17 points, five rebounds and two steals to help Butler finally advance out of that round after two previous tries since 2003.
A purple-clad team from another hoops-crazed state noticed.
"Hayward is big-time," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "He's a match-up problem for everybody. Six-eight, 6-9 guys that can drive the basketball the way he drives it, can shoot it, it's a problem."
That description depends, of course, on the point of view. The Bulldogs kinda like his versatile talent.
"He's a unique combination of size and skill," Butler guard Willie Veasley said.
"He's 6-9, but he handles the ball for us, he rebounds, he scores, he defends, he blocks shots, he plays passing lanes," Veasley added. "If there's one thing to say about (Hayward), he's just a complete player."
Which is why Butler's fun NCAA run isn't the only big dream dancing around Hayward's young head.
Eventually, he wants to play in the NBA — perhaps next season if he opts to enter the draft early and a team takes a chance on him.
"It's hard not to be thinking about it," Hayward said, "when so many people are talking about it, your friends and your peers."
For now, Hayward is putting off all pro thoughts for the biggest thing on his mind — his team's success.
Butler coach Brad Stevens knows Hayward's lofty career aspirations, but he's certain the Academic All-American and engineering dual degree major is focused on the right thing.
"He's a great basketball player," Stevens said. "We'll cross that (NBA) bridge when we get there."1 comment on this story
Hayward was tempted to make choices that would've prevented this Butler fantasy from happening. He thought about following his Boilermaker parents to Purdue before feeling strongly the Indiana college closer to his home was "where I should be at."
Then there was the pre-growth-spurt period in high school when the then-5-foot-11 youngster considered quitting hoops to play tennis.
"But (basketball) was always my first love," he said, "and so I stuck with it."
And his hoop dreams have only gotten bigger since.