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Fran Blinebury

Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward works best within a team atmosphere, which should work well with the Utah Jazz.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

An NCAA star, Hayward ready to be a teammate in Utah

Posted Aug 23 2010 6:30PM

Gordon Hayward knows he's not the first player to be booed in Salt Lake City when his name was announced on draft night.

It worked out OK for the other guy.

John Stockton spent the next 19 years carving out a legendary career with the Jazz that eventually put him into the Hall of Fame.

For now, the 20-year-old rookie just wants to put himself into a position to show what he can do.

"Play my game," said Hayward, "and maybe I'll change a few opinions along the way."

It's a familiar old war story by now, even to the baby-faced wing man who still looks like he'd need a note from his parents to get into an R-rated movie.

Is he strong enough and tough enough?

"That's kind of been the issue with me my whole life," Hayward said. "It was in issue in high school, an issue in college. I think what you give up in some areas you can gain in others. Maybe what I give up in quickness or sheer muscle to other guys I can make up with my mind.

"It's not just my body that's playing this game, though I think it will hold up fine. You've got to be able to do other things better if you're not as strong. You've got to be able to anticipate, have a first step on someone. Things like that will help me out. They always have.

"I understand that people who haven't seen me play very much might have their doubts or their questions. But hopefully when they see how I can fit into a team and make the most out of that situation, they'll come to understand what I'm about."

One morning last month at the Orlando Summer League, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks was leaning against a wall chatting while keeping an eye on the Jazz team running up and down the floor in a game.

"Can that kid fit into the NBA?" Brooks said, repeating the question. "What does he do? He shoots. What does Jerry Sloan's offense get you all of the time? Open shots. He'll be fine. Look at what he's done just to get here."

It wasn't exactly the classic route taken by Hayward to the NBA. The former No. 8-ranked youth tennis player in the state of Indiana was going to give up basketball in high school to concentrate on tennis until his mother talked him into sticking with the game for one more year.

That's when he literally went through a transformation from a 5-foot-11 point guard as a freshman to a 6-foot-8 forward as a senior, eventually enrolling at Butler University and thriving with his excellent ball handling and shooting ability. Then there was the magical run through the NCAA Tournament that took the Bulldogs all the way to the championship game and within a half-court heave of the title, a journey that propelled Hayward into the draft.

Hayward knew that it was a move he wanted to make, but the spring time filled with individual workouts was not a comfortable experience.

"For me, I've always been a team guy," he said. "The positives I bring are usually in a 5-on-5 setting within a team. In the workouts leading up to the draft, it was hard to see that. It was hard to see what I can do and for me to show what I can do in 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 games.

"What I'm about is the team. It's where I fit in, where I do my best work. For me it was weird going through all those workouts. It was all about you. It wasn't about anything else except how you did individually. For me to be back on a team (in the summer league) just felt good. It's what I enjoy most."

Jazz assistant coach Scott Layden, who directed things from the bench in Orlando, said Hayward has, "a feel for the game and a sense of where he is."

Right now, that's with a Utah franchise usually known for its stability but having undergone a summer of drastic change. Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews are gone with Al Jefferson, Raja Bell and Hayward moving into the newly-designed Jazz uniforms.

With Boozer no longer down in the low post and Mehmet Okur recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, most Jazz fans were expecting the club to reach for a big man in the draft, which likely accounted for the chilly reception Hayward received.

"I don't worry about it that much," he said. "The Utah organization said I was their guy and they're happy with the pick, so it's nothing against me. But maybe it is a little bit of motivation."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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