OAKLAND, Calif. — While on a Caribbean cruise this summer, Gordon Hayward and a group of buddies located the big boat's basketball court.
The young men also discovered the buffets.
No big surprise on either find.
The surprising part, rather, was that Hayward, a hoops junkie, didn't grab the ball and dominate all non-professional challengers on the court between ports. In fact, Hayward the NBA player became Hayward the supportive fan — and not just because he'd eaten too much (although he joked that he probably gained weight).
"I just sat on the sidelines and watched my friends play in the tournament," Hayward said. "They were begging me to play, but I couldn't risk it. It was fun watching them."
With the NBA back in session, Hayward has returned to action after an eventful summer, which included some R&R, a bit of fun and a lot of work, including a by-invitation-only training stint with the U.S. Olympic team.
As you'd expect, nobody has to beg him to step on the court to play now.
The 22-year-old, who has high hopes of becoming an All-Star and an Olympian, is pumped to get his third NBA season under way.
Hayward followed Saturday's 21-point open scrimmage performance with five points and six rebounds in the Jazz's 83-80 preseason-opening loss Monday night at Golden State.
Hayward is looking at this preseason period as a time to fine-tune his game, amp up his confidence, build team chemistry and work on being an aggressor on offense and a pest on defense.
Summed up, the hungry hoopster just wants to improve.
"I expect to get better every single year," Hayward said. "I did that from year one to year two."
His confidence seems to have increased with his comfort level and experience in the league, although it did take him a while to decompress after struggling to find his shot and success in the latter part of the season and postseason.
Hayward was so upset about his play and the Jazz's four-game sweep out of the playoffs by San Antonio, he couldn't — or wouldn't — hang out with his buddies to watch the NBA playoffs.
Begging would've been useless in that situation, too.
It simply hurt too much for this young man, a perfectionist at heart, to watch other teams play after his own had been eliminated.
Hayward used some of that negative emotion from the end of the 2011-12 season to fuel his offseason fire. That method of motivation is nothing new for Hayward, who often gets over successes quickly but allows failures to gnaw at him while using them to push his game to another level.
"It wears on him a little bit, and that's part of growing in this league," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "(He needs) to learn how to fight (his) way through it, and you fight it against yourself sometimes."
Regardless of motivational factors, Corbin has been impressed with the continual progression Hayward has made since he left Butler University after his sophomore season.
"His comfort every year has grown — from first year to last year, from last year to this year," Corbin said. "His assurance about who he is and what he can do in this league against different competition, the idea that he has to continue to learn and grow and work on his game to get better every year."
That improvement, Corbin has noticed, continues to happen on physical and mental levels.
"I think he's stronger," Corbin said. "His experience from this summer and last year, he understands how to be more aggressive when he need to be, how to be under control at different times. He's growing and coming along pretty good."
Part of that progression, Corbin added, is to learn how to bounce back from setbacks — whether it's a missed shot, a postseason slump or running the wrong play and getting a fastball thrown at him by a teammate.
That's something Hayward will have to keep in mind after opening Monday's game by going 1-for-6.
He's come too far, too quickly, for one rough half or outing to change how the Jazz think about him, though.
Marvin Williams followed Hayward's career at Butler, but he's really become impressed with his new teammate since playing with him for the past month, even before the Jazz started camp.
"He's very talented. To be as tall as he his, I think he can do a lot of things," said Williams, a fellow Jazz wing. "He can shoot the ball. He can handle it. He can definitely defend a couple of positions, which is always good. He's got the ability to do a lot of different things on the floor, so it really helps your team when you have a player like that."
NBA seasoning combined with talent will do that for young guys who work hard.
"When I first met him he was a young boy, now he's a man," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "He's coming into his own. I think he understands that. The experience do that for you when you've been around two, three years, you're starting to understand the game."
Hayward admitted that is the case.
"I think (I'm) just more comfortable out there, more experience," he said.
Corbin believes the more Hayward realizes he has a green light to attack the basket when the Jazz get him the ball — an aggressive attitude he started adopting last year — the better off the up-and-comer and his team will be.
The Jazz need him to use his size advantage, which is especially evident when he plays shooting guard — a plausibility for much of this season with the addition of Williams, a 6-foot-9 small forward.
Hayward's athletic ability makes him dangerous on both ends as well.
He doesn't think of himself as a shooter, per se, but he also has the ability to light it up outside when he shoots in rhythm and with confidence.
"The focus for him in the summer was to continue to grow his body and his game. One of the areas he really focused on was his shooting and shooting with confidence," Corbin explained. "If he missed one (and) it's a good shot, it's just a lucky miss — just continue to take the right shots."
It's been fun for Jefferson to watch the progress of a teammate who's grown before his eyes.
"Gordon is getting better every year," Big Al said. "He's attacking the basket even better than he did last year, even still more explosive and active on the defensive end. He's just getting better and better each year."
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