Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward is one step closer to seeing a dream come true.
The Utah Jazz shooting guard is among an elite group invited to USA Basketball's player pool and will get a shot to earn a spot on the U.S. men's basketball team, according to sources.
The United States' 12-man roster for the 2014 World Cup in Spain and the squad that will play in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil will be selected from this group. USA Basketball will officially announce a 28-player pool for the next two years Thursday morning.
It doesn't appear that opportunity will be afforded to his Jazz teammate, Derrick Favors, though. Favors, despite his breakout season, was not invited by USA Basketball.
Both Hayward and Favors participated in Team USA mini-camps in Las Vegas the past two summers. In 2012, they were among the players who helped prep the eventual gold-medal-winning U.S. team before the London Games. Last year, the Jazz duo was included in a group of 28 young up-and-comers invited to train with national coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff for evaluation purposes.
"It’s a great experience," Hayward told the Deseret News at the mini-camp last July. "Any time you come here and you get to put 'USA' on your chest and compete against the best, play under the best coaches, you’ve got to soak it all up."
This will be the fourth time Hayward was been invited to participate with USA Basketball. In 2009, the 6-foot-8 shooting guard played for the gold-winning U-19 squad in New Zealand. (Favors was invited to play on that team but had to withdraw due to a family situation.)
Last summer, Hayward said he wanted to use the mini-camp training and public scrimmage to show Team USA staff, led by managing director Jerry Colangelo, as a "learning experience" and to prove that he belongs among the country's elite players.
"You just come out here and compete," Hayward said. "That’s all they ask you to do — play hard, play the right way. You don’t need to put on a scoring clinic or anything, just go out and do the right thing."
Hayward might be a long shot to make the final roster, but he's put himself in a position to sport his country's colors in the top international competitions.
"You’re put into these environments to show you can play and to show you belong, to get a tryout to make the team," Hayward said. "I’ve been lucky enough to play for one of the youth teams, and there’s nothing like it. Playing in high school and college and in the NBA, there’s nothing like playing for your country."
NBA stars Kevin Love and Kevin Durant both announced their participation last summer. Rockets center Dwight Howard has also committed to the national team after a six-year hiatus, according to Yahoo Sports.
Other players to be invited to this summer's pool, according to various media reports, include former Weber State star Damian Lillard, ex-Jazzman Kyle Korver, Steph Curry, Paul George, Anthony Davis, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarcus Cousins.
Hayward is playing at a high level, and especially since the calendar turned. In four January games, Hayward is averaging 27.0 points, 60 percent shooting, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 asissts and 2.3 steals. He had a team-high 25 points in Tuesday's loss to Minnesota after missing five games with a left hip flexor.
Favors missed Tuesday's game against the T-Wolves with a right hip abductor injury, but he's had the best season of his four-year career up to this point. The 6-10 center is averaging 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Favors admitted last summer he's aiming for the national team. Unfortunately, his mini-camp participation was somewhat hampered by a nagging back issue.
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