Coming in, (Hayward) obviously was a higher draft pick, but if you look at his gradual progress from year to year, it’s ahead of schedule of what I was doing. I was probably a year behind that. I truly believe in a couple of years he can be an All-Star in this league if he continues to work on his game. —Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns head coach
SALT LAKE CITY — As the saying goes, you can take Jeff Hornacek out of Utah, but you can’t take the Utah out of Jeff Hornacek.
Or something like that.
Hornacek had the first of many encounters with his old franchise Friday night in Phoenix, where the Suns' new head coach has ignited a spark of excitement into an organization that’s been flailing for years.
With the Jazz in town, Hornacek couldn’t help but use the pronoun “we” when referring to his opponent.
The man whose No. 14 jersey hangs in the old Delta Center’s rafters spoke highly of Utah’s young crew, claiming his former pupil Gordon Hayward is a potential All-Star, crediting Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter for being “monsters” in the paint, and claiming the Next Generation Jazz “have bright futures.”
Not surprisingly, Hornacek fielded a boatload of Utah-related questions before and after his Suns edged the Jazz 87-84 on Eric Bledsoe’s last-second 3-point shot.
Some Q-and-A highlights:
— About facing the team he played for from 1994-2000 and helped coach from 2007-13:
”It’ll probably be more strange when we go up to Utah than it is here, but it should be fun.”
— On Hayward joking, “I might run by (Hornacek) and say something, definitely, if I hit a floater” Friday:
“That started last year when he was working on it. He made one and he pointed right back at the bench. Maybe he points to the wrong bench and he thinks he’s looking back at his own. Hopefully, we don’t let him make any tonight.”
(The Suns didn’t.)
— On his relationship with Hayward, who had 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Jazz loss:
“I always said I kind of compare his career path with mine. Coming in, he obviously was a higher draft pick (No. 9 vs. No. 46), but if you look at his gradual progress from year to year, it’s ahead of schedule of what I was doing. I was probably a year behind that. I truly believe in a couple of years he can be an All-Star in this league if he continues to work on his game.”
— Has he reached out to former coach Jerry Sloan for any advice?:
“No, not yet. I know him and Ty (Corbin) have always said, hey, if I ever have any questions to feel free to call them. So far, I haven’t needed that. A lot of the talk that I tell these guys obviously comes a lot from Jerry. He taught us well, Coach Sloan, over the years of playing and watching him coach. I’ll call him if need be, but I think I know all of his stuff.”
— Has he read teammate-turned-author John Stockton’s new autobiography “Assisted” yet?
“My wife gave me that book the other day, so I’ve got to read it on the next road trip. I want to take a picture when he signs autographs of the books.”