SALT LAKE CITY — If Gordon Hayward's shots fall anything like the boos that rained down at EnergySolutions Arena when his selection was announced Thursday night, the Jazz should feel soaked with satisfaction over their first-round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Hayward — a 20-year-old sophomore swingman from Indianapolis' Butler University, the runner-up to Duke in this year's NCAA title game — was taken at No. 9 overall.
The 2009-10 Horizon League Player of the Year went only after much-liked power forwards DeMarcus Cousins of Kentucky, Epke Udoh of Baylor and Greg Monroe of Georgetown were off the board — going No. 5 to Sacramento, No. 6 to Golden State and No. 7 to Detroit, respectively — and the Los Angeles Clippers had taken Wake Forest small forward Al-Farouq Aminu at No. 8.
"I think most of the guys that went in the top were big, and if some of those guys would have been there we probably would have gone big," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said. "But ... we got the best player available.
"We like his versatility, we like the fact that he's an intelligent basketball player, and we like the fact he's gotten better."
O'Connor — who called Hayward "America's darling" because of Butler's Cinderella NCAA run, which included a Sweet 16 win over Syracuse and an Elite Eight win over Kansas State at EnergySolutions — seemed compelled to calm those crying that Utah didn't take a big man, telling fans at the arena, "The only thing I hope is in two years you're not booing."
"Well," he told media members later, "they told me they booed John Stockton, too, so let's hope history repeats itself."
Added Jazz coach Jerry Sloan: "Maybe we would have liked to have had bigger bodies. ... It just didn't materialize — and just to take someone because they were big or that sort of thing doesn't make you a better team."
Hayward, who attended the draft in New York, knew all about the reaction in Utah.
"I heard that some of the fans were expecting a bigger player, and there was kind of some negative reaction," he said by phone. "And for me, I think I'm just gonna go in there ... and play hard and hopefully I can do some things on the court to turn those around."
North Carolina power forward Ed Davis, Kentucky power forward Patrick Patterson and Kansas center Cole Aldrich were still available when Hayward was taken.
So were Nevada small forward Luke Babbitt and Kansas shooting guard Xavier Henry, two other perimeter players the Jazz seriously considered.
All five wound up going by No. 16, including Davis, who didn't go until Toronto took him at No. 13 — and who wasn't even highest-rated on Utah's own board among the bigs still remaining at nine.
"We're comfortable with the pick that we made," said O'Connor, who tried unsuccessfully to trade up. "I hear all the things, and I can appreciate what the fans were saying they wished.
"We wished we had the third or fourth pick. We didn't. We think we got a player that's going to be a really terrific player in the NBA."
Even though he hit just 29.4 percent from college 3-point range during his sophomore season, Hayward — who earlier this month separated himself a bit during an intense workout in Utah for the Jazz that also included Aminu, Babbitt, Henry and fellow first-rounder Damion James of Texas — is billed as a strong-shooting small forward who can also play shooting guard.
But it's hardly just his shooting — 44.8 percent from 3-point range as a freshman — that intrigues the Jazz.
"He sees things in the game, sometimes, before other people see it. And that's a tremendous advantage he has," said Sloan, who calls Hayward a "smart" player. "He has an ability to pass the ball, he's able to put the ball on the floor. Those are players other players always like to play with."
"He makes other people better on the court," O'Connor added. "If you watch him play, he doesn't have to score points to get better. And he rebounds the ball awfully well, which is something Coach Sloan likes — a rebounding wing guy."
In his five minutes spent discussing Hayward, Sloan — not usually a name-dropper — managed references to Walt Frazier (because of his ability to play with the vision of a point guard, which the 6-foot-8 Hayward played when he was a 5-4 eighth-grader), Willis Reed (who also came from a small school, Grambling) and Hayward's fellow Hoosier Larry Bird (for his persistence and ability to think "above the rest of the play").
O'Connor dropped yet another name in discussing why Hayward's 207-pound frame — admittedly in need of added strength — is not a concern.
"If you look at Reggie Miller, he was pretty effective in the NBA," the Jazz GM said. "He's got to learn how to play in the NBA. That's the first thing. He's got to get a little bit stronger, obviously."
Still, there's just something about him the Jazz obviously couldn't resist.
"There's a quiet confidence about him," said O'Connor, who used a pick originally owned by New York and acquired from Phoenix in 2004. "I don't think he tries to be somebody that he's not, but ... he's confident on the basketball court."186 comments on this story
Seemingly resistant to doubters, too.
"When I was at Butler, everybody thought I was going to redshirt my freshman year. They thought there was no way we should have even have signed this kid," said Hayward, who admittedly was "intimidated" when first meeting Sloan.
"So, for me, I mean, it's a lot just going in there and playing the game that I love, and not worrying about that. I never worried about those things before. So, hopefully I can prove some of them wrong and get us going, get me going, on the right foot."