SALT LAKE CITY — They’re teammates on the basketball court, but Gordon Hayward and John Lucas are headed toward becoming rivals on another court.
The Utah Jazz players came away from their experience at the Champions Challenge on Tuesday at EnergySolutions Arena determined to play each other in tennis.
Both guys were accomplished tennis players back in their youth.
Hayward was one of the better Indiana tennis players in high school, and Lucas was nationally ranked in the top 15 as an 18-year-old in Houston.
They attended Tuesday’s matches featuring John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and James Blake, participated in a target-hitting skills challenge during a break (Hayward hit 1 of 3; Lucas missed 'em all), and came away determined to play each other.
Both think they’d win, of course.
“We talked about it. We definitely need to play,” Hayward said Wednesday after returning to his main sport. “For the record, (Lucas) didn’t hit any of the targets. I‘ve got one up on him right now.”
The 5-10 Lucas, who described himself as a quick serve-and-volley player, scoffed at the idea of losing to the 6-8 Hayward.
“He hit a target. I have placement in where I put the ball. I would have Gordon on the run. He’d be out of shape,” Lucas said. “Yeah. I put my money up. Whatever you all want to put up I’ll put up on the tennis game. Tennis game, basketball game, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, whatever. It doesn’t matter to me. Track. Man, I do it all. But when it comes to tennis, I’m so confident.”
Jazz teammate Trey Burke laughed when asked who would win a match between Hayward and Lucas.
“I’ve never seen either one of them play,” he said. “All I’ve heard was talk from both of them.”
Lucas arrived early to Tuesday’s tennis event and ended up hitting with McEnroe and chatting with Sampras. It brought back memories of watching them while growing up, of how he was tempted to turn pro in tennis instead of playing college basketball, and of spurning offers to play both sports at Baylor and Oklahoma State.
“Right out of high school I was really thinking about not going to college and going straight on the (pro) circuit,” he said. “Me and my father talked about it, but I just loved basketball so much. I just loved the atmosphere that basketball brought instead of tennis. I chose to go to basketball.”
Incidentally, Hayward almost chose tennis over basketball in high school before his growth spurt helped him soar above the 6-foot mark.
Lucas ribbed his teammate Tuesday for having prematch jitters.
“He was so nervous just to get the ball over the net,” Lucas said. “I was like, ‘I know I’m going to get the ball over the net.’”
“All I was hoping for was to hit one (target),” Hayward said. “If I had practice it would be 3 for 3, for sure.”
Lucas said he plans on hitting the other court more often when time permits. “I think I’ve got the tennis bug again since I picked up the racquet and hit a little bit (Tuesday).” Here’s hoping the eventual Hayward-Lucas duel is open to the public.
“They both say they’re good,” Burke added. “We’ll see.”
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