When I go out there and see him in that green and see him on the opposing side, that’s kind of when it will hit me. The last time I played for him was in the national championship game —Gordon Hayward
BOSTON — It might’ve been more fitting if Wednesday’s basketball game between the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics had taken place at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The contest definitely had an Indianapolis feel to it with the two most recognizable figures from Butler University on opposing ends of the TD Garden parquet floor.
On the visitors’ side: 2010 NCAA player of the year Gordon Hayward.
On the home bench: former Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens.
This round went to the man who recruited the Jazz player in high school and jokingly asked, "You think we should offer that guy a scholarship? Nobody's looking at him?"
Both Hayward and Stevens anticipated the game — won by the 1-4 Celtics 97-87 despite 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists for Hayward and the 0-5 Jazz — and spoke highly of each other before going against each other for the first time.
"I’ve probably done it in an intrasquad scrimmage before," Stevens admitted. "The results of that didn’t matter really much."
This one meant a lot for Hayward, though.
“When I go out there and see him in that green and see him on the opposing side, that’s kind of when it will hit me," he said an hour before tipoff. "The last time I played for him was in the national championship game."
That was in 2010.
Though they’re in the same league again, Hayward and Stevens haven’t had the time to keep up with each other since the pupil sent the teacher congratulatory text messages after he was hired by Boston to replace Doc Rivers and briefly visited at the Orlando Pro Summer League in July.
"He’s obviously got a lot going on, as do we," Stevens said.
They briefly exchanged greetings before the game and planned on chatting longer after postgame media interviews ended.
Hayward’s mentor from 2008-10 got caught up on what the former Butler star has been doing this season while preparing for Wednesday’s game.
"You watch the film and in a lot of ways I’m a proud coach because you’re watching and you’re really enjoying watching him," Stevens said. "Then you get sick to your stomach because you’ve got to play against him."
Stevens laughed while recalling his early days with Hayward, whom he described as “a 6-7 gangly kid” who was playing more tennis than basketball at the time he committed to Butler.
"He committed to us on June 1," Stevens said. "He really didn’t pick up a basketball until September other than maybe on Sunday mornings with his dad because he wanted to win a state championship in tennis."
That didn’t happen.
Coincidentally, Hayward’s only tennis defeat for Brownsburg High School in the regular season came with his future coach in attendance.
"The one time I saw him play, he got beat," Stevens said. "He was wearing a Purdue hat and Purdue shorts, so I wasn’t very happy with him after that."
Hayward’s parents, Gordon Scott and Jody, are both Boilermaker alumni.
"It was double awkward," Hayward said, smiling about being caught wearing gear from another school. "It was definitely not a good experience for him to be there when I lost."
Stevens is nothing but impressed with the way Hayward has improved as a basketball player since his high school days.
"He’s a really good player. He’s really gotten better since I coached him," Stevens said. 'He’s put on a lot of weight. He can create his own shot."
To wit, Stevens credited Hayward for dropping his defender before hitting a game-tying 3-pointer late in a game at Phoenix.
"He's a lot better than when I coached him. Man, and he was good when I coached him," Stevens said after earning his first win as an NBA coach at Hayward's expense. "I thought he was the best player in college at the time, and man has he improved. I'm proud of him."
Asked about the infamous half-court miss in the 2010 championship loss, Stevens turned the conversation into a pro-Hayward spin by saying he’ll remember "how many big plays he made to take us to really unchartered waters."
Stevens also credited Hayward for improving his body from those gangly days.
"We used to use as a slide in recruiting that he came to Butler and benched 185 three times. Fifteen months later it was 14," Stevens said. "He just was one of those guys who wasn’t going to make baby steps; he was going to make leaps and bounds. He continues to make them."
To Stevens’ credit, he said Hayward was NBA-worthy from early on.
"What a great prediction that was," Stevens quipped. "It’s pretty obvious when you see him now."5 comments on this story
Hayward feels the same about the NBA and his old coach, the one who kicked the Bulldogs out of practice on occasion when they weren’t focused enough.
"He told us that he would never leave Butler for another college. He was true to his word on that. He left for the NBA," Hayward said. "I could see him at the next level. We had always discussed a lot of things about the NBA. He’s here now and I’m happy for it."