Utah Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward is working hard to prove he can play in NBA

Published: Saturday, Dec. 25 2010 11:00 p.m. MST

Earlier in the year, there was some talk that the Jazz might start Hayward at the big-guard position, and he has made a handful of starts in place of Raja Bell when Bell was injured.

For the most part, however, Hayward only gets in games sparingly and was even on the inactive list for a game last week, although in his last outing he helped the Jazz in a fourth-quarter comeback win at Minnesota. It's been that kind of rollercoaster ride so far for Hayward.

"It's hard. My expectation was to get out on the court, but I realize it's going to take time and there's a lot of time to learn," he says. "I try to be ready to go out there and play when (Sloan) calls my name and play as hard as I can and when I'm on the bench to try to learn from all of the veterans on the team. (Sloan) is obviously a phenomenal coach so I just try to soak up as much as I can because there's so much to learn."

Even though Hayward hasn't played very many minutes so far this year and hasn't produced much in the games he has played, Sloan sees a bright future for his rookie.

"He's doing very well," Sloan said. "We just need to get him some playing time. He's made a lot of progress from when he's started. His inexperience gets him in trouble sometimes, but I think he's going to be just fine He's a young guy who has a lot of athletic ability. He's a guy who's going to be a good player in this league."

His college coach, Stevens, says he tries not to think about what would have been if Hayward had stayed with the Bulldogs this year, but he has little doubt about Hayward's future.

"He's obviously got a great basketball IQ. He's a guy that wants to get better and a guy that will work to get better and is in a great situation where he can grow and develop in a class organization," Stevens said. "I see nothing but a bright future ahead. Gordon is that he cares about one thing — winning. And his team is still winning."

Hayward says he has never been to Hawaii and would have loved to enjoy the sunshine this past week with his teammates, who advanced to the finals of the tournament with wins over Utah and Florida State.

He said he planned to text his old teammates to see how Hawaii was.

But Hayward isn't concerned that he's missing out on a trip of a lifetime.

"It would have been fun to be able to spend time with my teammates," he said. "But with the kind of position I'm in now, I mean, I can probably go whenever I want in the offseason."

That's what a $5 million contract will do for a person.

Then Hayward laughs and says, "Maybe we'll all go and make it a trip sometime."

The Hawaii trip notwithstanding, Hayward has no regrets about his decision to turn professional.

"As far as the decision, I'm happy with what I did," he said. "There are times when I feel, it would be fun to go back and play with those guys again. But you have to move on and put both feet forward."

e-mail: sor@desnews.com

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