I think I've shown that I belong in the league. It's something that you work for and you work towards. —Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward
MIDVALE — Now back in the Beehive State, Gordon Hayward smiled while admitting Utah Jazz teammate Jeremy Evans' wedding was the non-hoops highlight of his four-month summer break.
"It was funny to see him up there," said Hayward, who attended the small ceremony in Georgia along with Jazz coaches Tyrone Corbin and Michael Sanders. "It was a great wedding. Any time you see someone like one of your friends step up to the plate and get married, it's pretty cool."
Though the 22-year-old Hayward doesn't have wedding plans in his near future — "It's still a ways for me," he said, grinning — the Jazz guard is a week away from becoming fully engaged to another of his life's loves.
Yep, basketball season is quickly approaching.
Forget the rice. Grab your pompoms.
"I can't believe it's already almost here," Hayward said at an autograph-signing session Saturday at a new Dick's Sporting Goods store. "But, you know, when you come back to Salt Lake, it's like, 'Time to play.'"
Jazz players, many of whom have returned to Utah, will report to fall camp for their first practice on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The Jazz begin their eight-game preseason schedule with a game at Golden State the following Monday (Oct. 8). If recent tradition holds, a free public scrimmage would likely take place at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday, Oct. 6.
Like fans, Hayward is interested to see how the team will come together with the offseason acquisitions of veterans Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye.
"We definitely got a lot of talent on the team," Hayward said. "We've got a lot of depth. I think if we're going to have a problem that's a good problem to have."
Hayward pointed out that all three incoming players are "tough physical guys." In hopes of also being in that category, the 6-foot-8 athlete packed on about five pounds of muscle in the summer to bulk up to about 223 pounds. Last year, he reported to camp at 220 but played at 210.
Hayward's offseason also included training at a Jazz-recommended Santa Barbara performance lab, pro-am scrimmaging in Indianapolis, and participating with Utah power forward Derrick Favors on a USA Select Team that prepped the eventual gold-medal-winning men's squad during a pre-Olympics training camp in Las Vegas.
Hayward finished the 2011-12 season as a Jazz starter, and he's prepared to battle to keep a spot in the first five.
"You want to start for the team and you want to make sure you're the one out there on the court, getting as many minutes as you can," Hayward said. "So especially in training camp, there's going to be some competitions going on. I think that will further benefit all of our games and make us better as a team."
While making an impact on a playoff team, Hayward also wants to turn himself into one of the NBA's elite players.
"I think I've shown that I belong in the league. It's something that you work for and you work towards," Hayward said. "Now I think I know that I belong and everything. Now you push yourself even further, try and become an All-Star. That's definitely a goal of mine, but I think first and foremost I think if we were to win games that will help that out."
Hayward has high hopes for the Jazz. He believes his personal progression mirrors the Jazz's improvement trajectory — in part because of how many solid players are loaded into each position.
"I expect us to do better than we did last year," he said, reflecting back on a better-than-expected 36-30 record and first-round playoff appearance in the lockout-shortened campaign.
"I think as a player you kind of want to improve both as a team and individually from year to year," Hayward added. "I've done that from my rookie to sophomore year. Hopefully I'll do that again this year. Same goes for the team. We missed playoffs first year (39-43 in 2010-11), made it barely the second year, so this year needs to be better than that."
A smile flashes on Hayward's face when the subject of his newlywed teammate comes up again. He called it "a very eventful summer" for Evans, the 2012 NBA Slam Dunk champion who signed a three-year deal with the Jazz prior to getting married to his college sweetheart.
"It's tough for us to find minutes for him. I think he showed last year any time he gets out there on the floor he makes stuff happen. He brings energy," Hayward said of the bouncy 6-9 Western Kentucky forward who entered the NBA the same year as the Butler product. "That's just what he does as a person too in the locker room: he brings energy. He creates that chemistry that we all have, so I was really happy for him."
Having watched Evans cut a rug at his wedding, Hayward also reconfirmed what some Jazz fans already know.
"He's got some moves."