LAS VEGAS — Forget that popular mantra about Sin City.
If the Utah Jazz are lucky, the bond that Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are showing and the team-building that continues to happen in Vegas will not, well, you know how it goes.
Hayward and Favors were wearing USA Basketball practice uniforms as the national team’s mini-camp began Monday, but you didn’t need to see "Jazz" spelled out on their jerseys to tell they’re tight teammates.
Before the day’s final scrimmage — the only one media members were allowed to watch at UNLV's Mendenhall Center — Hayward sat next to Favors for a quick breather even though their practice squads were about to face each other.
After the first of three training sessions this week wrapped up, it was Favors who sought out Hayward when their media interviews were completed.
Both times one Jazz player was sitting alone.
Both times one sought the other out so they could spend a moment together.
That camaraderie — off the court and on it — could go a long way for an overhauled Jazz team in search of a new identity.
“It’s always great to be here with a guy that’s on your team, so you can always talk to him, ask for advice or whatever,” Favors said. “Gordon, he’s a great guy. Every time I got a chance, I’d look over to see how he did in the scrimmage — and he did good.”
The compliment was returned from the other Jazz player in town who’ll be entering his fourth NBA season this fall.
Hayward grinned like he’d just hit a new high score on a video game when asked about being at another Team USA event with Favors, the 6-10 power forward he said “looks good so far.” Last summer, both players were on the U.S. Select Team, which acted as a pre-London Olympics sparring partner for the eventual gold-medal-winning national squad.
“It puts a smile on your face, for sure. Knowing that we’re going to be — next year — taking a much bigger role (in Utah), it puts another smile on my face,” Hayward said. “I’m proud that he’s here next to me.”
Having Favors’ company in Vegas isn’t the only thing making his heart smile.
Hayward reminisced about previous opportunities he’s had to play for his country, including his standout stint in 2009 with the gold-winning U-19 squad in New Zealand. (Favors was invited to play for Basketball USA in high school, but had to withdraw due to a family situation.)
“It’s a great experience,” Hayward said. “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.”
Hayward and Favors are trying to continue making a favorable impression on USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski this week. The Jazz players are among 28 young up-and-coming Americans — Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall are among the group's elite — who could earn spots on national teams, including for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Both Jazz players share a common desire to be Team USA teammates in the future.
“I’m just out here playing, trying to compete, trying to earn me a spot on the team,” said Favors, who had one strong move to the hoop for a layup in the short scrimmage. “I’m just trying to do anything, whether it’s defense or rebounding, talking on defense, blocking shots, running the court — just anything to separate myself, something to catch their eye.”
Hayward said he’s using this week — the mini-camp ends with a public scrimmage Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center — as another “learning experience.” The 6-8 small forward’s hustle on defense caused a few turnovers in the final scrimmage. He also joked that Favors got away with a foul on him.
“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.”
Do that enough times, and you might get lucky enough to play alongside LeBron James, Chris Paul & Co. with a gold medal on the line.
“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.”
One thing that might top that?
Playing for your country with a trusted teammate.
“I think we’ve both come a long way,” Hayward said of himself and Favors. “We still have a lot more work to do, but I wouldn’t have any other big guy than Fav-O with me.”
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