Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Mention Butler basketball, and one name will pop up in the ensuing conversation.
No offense to Matt Howard, Ronald Nored or other Bulldogs, current and past, but Hayward is as synonymously tied to the Indianapolis-based university as The Jimmer is with BYU.
Water-cooler question of the day is: Could the Hoosier State hero's name eventually be linked in similar fashion with the Utah Jazz?
Rephrased, is this 21-year-old — whose selection sent boos general manager Kevin O'Connor's way on Draft Day 2010 — capable of becoming face-of-the-franchise material?
Hayward blushes when you ask him.
"I don't think that I look at it like that," a humble Hayward said. "I just look at it as (I'm) a basketball player trying to help his team improve, help his team win — hopefully just being more consistent this year, being more of a contributor."
Ahhh. Sweet music to his team's ears.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin would love nothing more than for Hayward to be one of many squad standouts.
"The ceiling's as hard as he works. He's an extremely talented cat," Corbin said. "I think he's relaxed a lot more this year. He knows what he's facing this year. Last year, it was kind of eyes wide open, and it was different things, different nights. He has a better feel of what's ahead of him now."
That future makes Earl Watson smile.
"His potential's unlimited," the veteran said. "I think Gordon's the type of player, he's so skilled and so unselfish, he just wants to make everyone better. We need Gordon to be that player who takes that next step."
He's not trying to turn Hayward into an overnight superstar, but Watson believes, even expects, the young Jazz guard-forward is capable of following a similar improvement trajectory as his old Seattle/Oklahoma City teammate, Kevin Durant.
Erratic rookie year. Breakout sophomore season. Force uniform makers to reprint No. 20 Hayward jerseys.
Or something like that.
Watson isn't dishing out an empty stardom guarantee or predicting MVP-like numbers for Hayward. He just has an optimistic opinion of a potential-packed player.
"KD's rookie year, I seen him just go crazy like the way Gordon did last year," Watson said. "That next year is when KD really became KD. And that third year is when he just became one of the best players in the NBA, and those are the same progressive steps and mentality that I think Gordon should have."
O'Connor didn't bite when asked if he thought Hayward has go-to-guy promise. But the Jazz GM revisited receiving Bronx cheers by disgruntled Jazz fans at a draft party after he picked the Butler star No. 9 overall in 2010.
But O'Connor also sent high praise Hayward's way: "He makes good basketball decisions and he can also score. A lot of times, those are guys you want with the ball either late in the clock or late in the game."
Heady hoopsters with clutch skills are also the kind of guys marketing staffs put on billboards and posters.
Hayward wasn't a big name or big player so many Jazz fans hoped to acquire with a rare lottery selection the team received from the New York Knicks via a trade.
O'Connor shared his wish after/while they voiced their dissatisfaction with the pick 18 months ago.
"The only thing I hope is in two years you're not booing," he said.
Only 10 months later, Jazz fans, now disgruntled for other reasons (read: departures of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams), were doing the opposite. Cheering loudly.
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