Utah Jazz: Jazz's Gordon Hayward heating up just in time to return home to Indiana

Published: Saturday, March 1 2014 11:05 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward (20) looks to drive on the Spurs' Jeff Ayres as the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs play Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

INDIANAPOLIS — Gordon Hayward is starting to thaw out after being in a cold-shooting polar vortex this winter.

For fans who’ve followed his basketball career since he played at the famous Hinkle Fieldhouse, even at Brownsburg High, Hayward is heating up at an opportune moment.

Just in time to play at home for a day.

Few people are more synonymous with Hoosier State basketball than Hayward, and he’s certain to receive another warm welcome by Indiana fans Sunday night when he visits Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the fourth time with the Utah Jazz.

Hayward doesn’t play for the Pacers, but he’s still an Indiana boy at heart. As such, he’s looking forward to playing in the building where he won a state championship, to competing against his childhood NBA team, and to being among family, friends and faithful fans, many of whom will be wearing No. 20 Jazz jerseys in his honor.

“It’s still special anytime you go home. It’s always special,” Hayward said. “There’ll be a lot of friends and family there. It’ll be fun. The Pacers are really good at home, so it will be a challenge for us.”

Hayward, dealing with an uncertain contract situation and having more NBA responsiblity than ever, knows something about challenges. More often than not, he's overcome them too.

In high school, Hayward's DNA helped him leap one huge hurdle as he hit a growth spurt that turned him from a 5-11 borderline high school hooper to a 6-8 potential-packed athlete. At the time, he also led underdog Brownsburg High to the 2008 Indiana Class 4A state title in dramatic fashion, hitting a legendary buzzer-beater to lift the Bulldogs over Marion High, 40-39.

That championship run is when then-Butler coach Brad Stevens, now the Boston Celtics head coach, realized what kind of a special player was headed his Indianapolis-based program’s way the following fall.

“He really didn’t show that (potential) consistently until his senior year in the high school playoffs,” Stevens said of Hayward. “When March rolled around, he put his team on his back and led them to a state championship.

“You name a historic program in Indiana and they knocked them off on the way there. That was really impressive. That was when we all said there’s more to it than just the potential. From that point on, it was exciting to have a guy that you thought was going to be there. At Butler, we didn’t have anybody like that for a long, long time."

Incidentally, Stevens hosted his home state’s team, the Pacers, on Saturday, giving Indiana back-to-back days to relive Butler memories.

Showing how well he knows Hayward, Stevens was asked what the shooting guard is like when he goes through slumps, something he was still mired in when Boston visited Utah last week.

“He gets a chip on his shoulder and plays really well,” Stevens said. “I hope it’s not tonight.”

It wasn’t. Hayward missed seven of 11 field goal attempts in the Jazz’s 110-98 win over Boston and scored just eight points.

As Stevens hoped, though, Hayward has played really well since that night. After a monthlong stretch that saw him shoot around 30 percent, Hayward has averaged 17.5 points and hit half of his shots in the Jazz’s last two games. He’s also averaged 8.5 rebounds and eight assists in his most impressive consecutive performances since his hot streak in early January before his hip injury.

Hayward, one of only four NBA players to average at least 16 points, five rebounds and five assists this season, said his confidence is picking up “a little bit” with a couple of solid showings in a row.

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