Utah Jazz: Teammates, opponents see improving Gordon Hayward as 'special'

Published: Monday, April 4 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

LOS ANGELES — Gordon Hayward has been in the NBA for nearly an entire season, but the combination of his association with Butler University and another captivating NCAA Tournament run by the Bulldogs have put him in the spotlight more than anything he's done as a rookie.

Not that the Utah Jazz player minds.

Acting as Butler's unofficial ambassador/poster boy, the 21-year-old hot interview commodity has been featured during the NCAAs on interviews ranging from ESPN, to Yahoo Sports, to … you name the publication or TV/radio station.

"I've been talking about Butler for a while," Hayward said at Monday's practice. "It's fun being able to talk about them. It makes me proud that people want to talk about them."

Of course, if Hayward continues to play and progress the way he has been, media types will eventually switch the talking points and focus the attention on him instead of his hometown school.

A day after Hayward notched a career-high 19 points on Sacramento, his potential was gushed about by veteran teammates.

"Special" was one word center Al Jefferson used in describing the 6-foot-8 swingman, whose game is maturing despite his boyish looks. (Yes, Hayward almost looked like he could fit in at the high school where the Jazz practiced Monday.)

"He don't know how good he can be in this league," Jefferson said. "It's going to be scary. He's going to be real good."

And Hayward is going to be real good in many aspects of the game, 10-year NBA guard Earl Watson believes.

"I think Gordon is come into his own," Watson said.

Hayward also happens to have a fan in Oklahoma City. The talented guy who pumped up BYU's Jimmer Fredette for being the "best scorer in the world!" also thinks the Jazz have a talented youngster.

"Kevin Durant was talking to me during the game (at Oklahoma City)," Watson explained. "He was like, 'Man, (Hayward) should be starting.' Kevin Durant loves him. He was talking about how good he was in the game."

The fact that Hayward had his worst shooting night as a pro during that March 23 game — going 1-for-10 from the field on his 21st birthday — when he received the compliment speaks volumes about his all-around game.

"The thing with Gordon is he's so versatile," Watson said. "He doesn't just focus on one thing. If Gordon was just a 3-point shooter, everybody would notice how good of a 3-point shooter he really is."

Watson added that Hayward "can do a lot of things, almost everything."

For example?

"He's a well-rounded player and he's an unselfish player," Watson said. "He's a playmaker. He can score. He can get his own shot. He can come off picks. He can handle pick-and-rolls. He's a great defender. He has underestimated athletic ability. He's really athletic. He has a (Manu) Ginobili-like quickness to him."

Hayward also has a knack for swatting shots on occasion.

Ask John Wall and Chris Paul.

While compliments are flattering, Hayward realizes how far he's come in this league and how far he has to go to become the productive NBA player he envisions.

"I want to improve everything," Hayward said. "When you go to the next level, everything's got to be better. I think one thing I need to improve a lot is my mindset, being more aggressive and trying to make plays and attack the rim."

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