Saturday, February 11 - Celtics at Jazz
Pregame – Stevens Impressed by Butler Product Hayward's Growth
SALT LAKE CITY – Gordon Hayward two weeks ago became Brad Stevens’ first collegiate product to earn an All-Star bid.
The Utah Jazz forward played two seasons under Stevens at Butler University, and has gradually risen to stardom during his seven years in Salt Lake City. Entering Saturday’s matchup against the Boston Celtics, Hayward is averaging career highs of 22.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Stevens has always admired Hayward’s progress from afar and was prideful when discussing his maturation ahead of the game.
“It’s special to watch him,” Stevens said before tip-off at Vivant Smart Home Arena. “He’s made great strides. It’s very exciting for him and the organization that he’s an All-Star, and he’s certainly earned it. He’s shown tremendous growth throughout all his years playing.”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder has witnessed that growth first-hand during his three years at the helm in Utah. He says Hayward’s steady incline is product of extreme hard work and dedication.
“I think there’s been a focus for him on, ‘Here’s the plan. Here’s what I need to do to get better.’ And then he’s done the rest,” said Snyder. “He’s dove in and the results speak for themselves.”
The biggest difference Stevens has noticed in Hayward’s game is his physicality, particularly on the offensive end. When the C’s coach was recruiting him out of high school, Hayward was a skinny tennis player with not much of an athletic build. He has since grown into a strong, athletic specimen with a tremendous offensive repertoire. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, and that’s been a big part of his growth,” said Stevens. “He’s been able to play more physical on both sides of the ball and he’s a physical driver. Sometimes people talk about playing hard on defense and equate it with getting lose balls and rebounds and such, but I think you have to play hard on offense too. And he’s a physical, hard guy to stop because he drives it so well.”
Stopping Hayward’s drives and limiting him on the offensive end will be one of Stevens’ top priorities tonight as his Celtics take on a thriving Jazz team in Utah.
- Taylor C. Snow