SALT LAKE CITY — Since being selected to USA Basketball’s 28-man player pool, Gordon Hayward has received a lot of congratulatory comments and compliments.
“Tremendous accomplishment,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “I’m extremely happy for him.”
“He deserves every honor he’s getting right now,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke added. “He’s playing really well.”
Of course, the morning after learning he’s one step closer to earning a spot on the national team, Hayward also got a little bit of trash talk from one of his Utah Jazz teammates.
All’s fair in love, war and international basketball competitions, right?
“Rudy (Gobert) said something to me right when I walked in,” Hayward said, smiling. “It’s interesting when you have guys on your team that are from different countries and then competing against them maybe.”
The 7-foot-1 Gobert is expected to play for France’s team this summer in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.
“That,” Hayward said, “would definitely be pretty cool to play against (Jazz teammates).”
Especially, perhaps, now that a verbal gauntlet has been thrown by the Frenchman. What did Gobert say, anyway?
Hayward politely said he couldn’t repeat the conversation.
“No, I can’t,” he said. “But Rudy is extremely patriotic. Anytime somebody that’s French does well, he’s the first one to tell us. He’s proud of his country.”
Hayward might not be as vocal about it, but he is certainly sentimental for his native land, too. It’s been a career highlight for him to wear USA letters on his jersey in three previous stints at the national level, including a 2009 gold-medal experience with the U-19 team.
“I’m extremely excited,” Hayward said. “It’s a great opportunity for me and something I’ve been working towards. Hopefully, I can make the most of it.”
Hayward was a bit bummed that teammate Derrick Favors wasn’t selected to the player pool. The two Jazz players have participated in minicamps the past two summers with USA Basketball in Las Vegas.
“For whatever reason, they didn’t invite him back,” Hayward said. “I think he’ll be back with Team USA, for sure.” Per NBA rules, Favors was unavailable for an interview because he didn’t practice Thursday due to his right hip abductor injury.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was another big man whose omission was surprising to some. The American frontcourt invitees include LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, David Lee and Kevin Love.
“He didn’t make it this time. It’s one of the breaks,” Corbin said of Favors. “We’ll root for Gordon, and Derrick will continue to work to get better.”
Hayward has some stiff competition among wing players hoping to obtain roster spots. The shooting guard pool includes James Harden, Bradley Beal, Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson, while the star-studded small forward group includes LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Andre Iguodala and Kawhi Leonard.
Hayward was impressive in his minicamp last summer while battling against the younger Americans, including Indiana’s George.
“I showed them a little bit more about what I can do on the basketball court, the worker I’ll be if they were to select me,” Hayward said. “I’m just a guy that would do anything to win.”
The U.S. automatically qualified for the 2014 World Cup by winning gold at the 2012 London Games. Team USA will hold a training camp in July ahead of the international competition, which will take place from Aug. 30-Sept. 14 around Spain.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be invited, but you’re still not on the team, you’re just on the roster,” Hayward said. “Hopefully, I can go out there and play well enough to get selected.”
Other players selected with Utah ties include ex-Jazz point guard Deron Williams, a two-time Olympian, and former Weber State star Damian Lillard.
USA Basketball roster pool
— Point guards: Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams
— Shooting guards: Bradley Beal, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson
— Small forwards: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Andre Iguodala, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard
— Power forwards: LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, Blake Griffin, David Lee, Kevin Love
— Centers: Tyson Chandler, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard
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