Utah Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward is working hard to prove he can play in NBA
After consulting with his family and college coach, Hayward decided the time was right to declare for the NBA and revealed his decision on April 14.
The Jazz had the No. 9 choice in the June NBA Draft, thanks to a pick they received from the New York Knicks in a long-ago trade, and they surprised a lot of folks by choosing Hayward, who was projected to go in the middle of the first round.
"I had such a wide range that I would have been happy to play for anyone," said Hayward. "But coming here was especially cool."
For Hayward, it was not an easy decision to leave after just two years of college for the NBA.
He was close to his teammates, particularly the five other players in his recruiting class — Butcher, Mack, Stigall, Nored and Emerson Kampen.
"All of the guys, six people in my class, are my best friends," Hayward says. "I still talk to them on a regular basis. I either text or talk to them on the phone."
On the night of the draft, they all gathered with other Butler players at coach Brad Stevens' house to watch and see where their teammate was going..
"It was like Selection Sunday," Stevens recalled last week at the Diamond Head Classic. "Our guys are all really excited for him and want him to do well. This is a team that tries to do things for each other and a program that believes in team. He's still a big part of that and always will be."
Most 20-year-olds are either still living at home or away at college, not living by themselves in a new city a thousand miles from home, the situation Hayward finds himself in these days, living alone in an apartment in Salt Lake.
To help with the big change in his life, Hayward's father, Gordon Sr., came out from Indiana with him in the fall and stayed until recently.
"It's still a little bit of an adjustment being on my own," young Hayward says. "My dad just left — he was here with me all the way up through Thanksgiving — so I'm now just on my own. It's different, but exciting."
Hayward said that's the biggest off-the-court adjustment he's had to make.
"I've never been on my own before," he said. "Butler was like 20 minutes from my house, so I was pretty much at home. I never had my own apartment and made my own meals for myself and all that. So that's a big adjustment."
On the court, the biggest adjustments for Hayward have been defense — he seems to get more than his share of fouls as he tries to keep up with the bigger and faster NBA players — shooting, and the general pace of the game.
"I think the shot clock is definitely an adjustment, because it makes the decision-making quicker," he says. "You have to do things faster with the ball, whether you're going to pass or shoot and defensively whether you're going to help or stay with your man. So the extra 11 seconds makes a difference."
Coach Jerry Sloan points to his shooting, while praising other parts of his game, saying, "His shooting has hurt him as much as anything. But he's worked on that very hard and hopefully he'll continue to work on it, so he can make open shots. He passes the ball well and goes after the basketball rebounding it."
Hayward doesn't point to one aspect of his game that needs the most work.
"It's everything," he says. "You're on a totally different level, everything's got to be fine-tuned and sharpened a little bit."
The Jazz rookie knows he needs to improve his outside shooting as a wing player in the NBA, and he works with former Jazz player Jeff Hornacek before nearly every practice, shooting at least 100 shots with fellow rookie Jeremy Evans as Hornacek keeps track of their success from a variety of spots on the floor.
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