DALLAS — The Utah Jazz are one game, 24-plus hours and 1,200 miles away from experiencing Jimmermania.
When that moment finally arrives at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday and Jimmer Fredette makes his highly anticipated NBA debut in his college state, the BYU star will be on the basketball court with a young man who knows what he's going through this season.
Jimmer, meet Gordon Hayward.
College Poster Boy 2011, introducing NCAA Tournament Darling 2010.
Shake hands, play a good game and continued luck trying to live up to those high expectations based on your college achievements.
"Any rookie who's drafted early is going to have those expectations," said Hayward, picked No. 9 by the Jazz in 2010. (Fredette was the No. 10 selection in '11.) "Depending on the system that they're placed in and the opportunity that they're going to get, the expectations might not always be real."
Real or not, they can also be hard to live up to.
But first things first.
Hayward and his Jazz squad have a rematch Friday night with the Dallas Mavericks, and both the second-year small forward and Utah hope to bounce back.
The Jazz are coming off their biggest stumble of the season — a double-overtime loss to a Toronto club that only had five wins (and 13 losses) prior to tripping up the well-rested and favored home team. The 111-106 setback was the Jazz's second in three games in Salt Lake City, going back to last Thursday's rough TNT loss to the Mavs.
As for Hayward, he has had an even tougher stretch. Since his season-high 19 points in a win at Denver, he has only scored 18 points total on 6-for-27 shooting in four games combined. During the slump, he's gone 0-for-10 from 3-point range.
Weird thing is, Hayward has been draining those shots in practice.
Practice precision, however, hasn't translated into game-time performance. On the season, Hayward is shooting 37.6 percent overall and 23.1 percent beyond the arc.
"He'll be OK," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Even while Hayward searches for his missing touch, Corbin believes the Butler product gives the Jazz enough production elsewhere to keep starting him and playing him significant minutes.
Still, Corbin admitted he wondered if left Hayward in too long in the loss to Toronto — one of many questions he asked himself. The starting small forward scored two points on 1-for-9 shooting and had four turnovers but totaled seven boards, three assists and two steals.
"If you lose a game," Corbin added, "you critique everything, and we'll continue to do that."
The coach knows what the versatile Hayward is capable of now and believes in the 21-year-old's future, so he's not giving up on him. Corbin believes Hayward is one swish, one solid drive, one sweet pass away from smacking his slump in the face and busting out of his funk.
"He continued to compete," Corbin said. "I thought he did a good job on the defensive end of the floor. His energy was still good. He just didn't make shots."
Hayward knows he needs to stop thinking when shooting and "just let it fly." Hesitation and doubt are enemies to rhythm, which results in airballs and 20-foot rim-punishers.
Realizing that Corbin has his back is a shot in the arm for the currently wayward shooter. He's putting in extra time before and after practice and in pregame workouts to regain his groove and confidence.
"I'll get there," Hayward said. "I'm not worried."
As his coach repeats, Hayward's value doesn't lie just within snapping the nets or driving and dunking — although those would be added bonuses, of course.
"I feel like even if I'm not hitting the shots, I'm still trying to do the little things to help us win — contribute playing defense, getting rebounds, just making sure the offense is running correctly," Hayward said. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can."
Learning how to play consistently and perform how you practice, Corbin believes, is part of the growth process.
"He's a capable shooter," Corbin said of Hayward, a would-be senior at Butler. "You've just got to make them in the game, that's all. Take the right shots. Continue to work."
Because he left Butler after his sophomore season, Hayward has officially played in more professional games (88) than college contests (69).
But it's been an adjustment — especially early on — to get used to not being The Big Man On Campus. Though he's never crossed paths with Fredette, he suspects the Sacramento guard is trying to deal with a similar transition.
Almost every NBA athlete was The Man on his college team, so not many plays are drawn up for rookies. The 24-second shot clock speeds the game up. You have to be patient but prepared.
All of that, Hayward said, can be "difficult mentally" for new NBA guys.
"It's different opportunities that you're given," Hayward said. "In college, all the plays are run through you. You're getting the isos (isolation plays). You're given multiple opportunities to do what you do. When you get to the next level, it's not always necessarily there because you have other guys who may be better at doing a certain thing. It's an adjustment."
It might even be a bigger one for Fredette, who has played better in recent games but struggled mightily early on while trying to find his role and shot with the Kings.
"I don't know if I would consider myself a high-profile college player," Hayward said. "I went to the national championship, but he led the nation in scoring. He did a lot more in college."
Hayward doesn't dwell in the past, expecting the Utah situation to be like Butler — and certainly not at this early point in his career. He's not leading his team in scoring like he did with the Bulldogs and he's struggled, but comparing the NBA sophomore to the NCAA sophomore can be deceiving.
"I'm still confident in the abilities that I have," Hayward said. "I've probably gotten a lot better since college. It's just different."
Hayward's season might be different than what some fans had hoped, especially considering the end of his rookie campaign. But he's not about to let negative feedback online, on sports radio or elsewhere affect him.
"I take everything with a grain of salt, just keep working at it," Hayward said. "I always say on Twitter, 'Improve every day.' That's what you try to do, whether it's been a bad day the day before or a really good day the day before."
Hayward's focus is on improving tonight and helping his team beat the defending NBA champions, but he looks forward to his first taste of Jimmermania.
"It'll be fun when he comes to town," Hayward said. "It should probably be pretty crazy."
College (BYU): 139 games 18.7 ppg 3.7 apg 45.4 FG% 39.3 3PT%
NBA (Kings): 19 games 8.5 ppg 2.1 apg 36.3 FG% 36.5 3PT %
College (Butler): 69 games 14.4 ppg 7.4 rpg 47.0 FG% 36.9 3PT%
NBA (Jazz): 88 games 5.9 ppg 2.2 rpg 45.4 FG% 38.9 3PT%
Email: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
Email: [email protected] Twitter: DJJazzyJody