NEW ORLEANS — The Utah Jazz will have three players spending the weekend here in The Big Easy instead of relaxing at home with their families or vacationing in some exotic place.
Gordon Hayward will be playing in Sunday’s All-Star Game for the first time in his seven-year career, while Trey Lyles and Dante Exum will both be playing in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge, each for the second time.
Hayward has preferred not to talk much about his All-Star appearance since being named to the squad last month, saying he wanted to concentrate on the Jazz's regular-season games instead.
On Wednesday night, however, Hayward finally said a few words after being presented with his No. 20 All-Star jersey before the game by Jazz CEO Greg Miller. Following his 22-point performance in Wednesday’s 111-88 win over Portland, Hayward said, “It’s exciting. It’s a great feeling, especially being able to do it for the fans. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Hayward will be the first Jazz player to play in the annual Sunday game since Deron Williams in 2011. In all, he’s the 12th Jazz player to be named to the All-Star Game. Hayward participated in All-Star Weekend one other time, in 2012 when he scored 14 points in the Rising Stars Challenge. He also helped out his teammate Jeremy Evans in the Slam Dunk Contest, sitting on a chair and throwing balls up to Evans, who won the event.
Hayward will also compete in the Skills Challenge on Saturday night going up against Washington’s John Wall in an obstacle-styled course that includes several basketball skills including shooting, passing and dribbling. Eight players will compete in a bracket with two players advancing to the finals.
For Lyles and Exum it will be old hat to be playing in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night. Exum played for the World team two years ago in Brooklyn along with Rudy Gobert and scored four points in a 121-112 win.
“It’s an honor,” said Exum of his selection. “Obviously not being able to play last year, being out the whole year and to be able to come back from injury and being invited again is a huge honor.”
He hopes to help his foreign teammates get on the winning side again.
“Yeah, we won (in 2015) and lost last year, so hopefully we can win again this year,” he said.
Lyles scored just two points in 12 minutes a year ago while going against teammate Rodney Hood who played for the winning Team USA side.1 comment on this story
“It’s cool for me, it’s an honor to be picked again,” Lyles said. “It was a fun experience to be at All-Star weekend and be able to participate in what’s going on. Only 20 guys get picked and I’m looking forward to it. I just want to go out there and have fun.”
Even though Hayward, Exum and Lyles won’t be resting like the rest of their teammates this weekend, coach Quin Snyder is happy for each of them to be involved in All-Star Weekend.
“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “I’m happy for them to be rewarded, Gordon in particular, obviously, to have an opportunity to do that. I want them to enjoy it.”