There's a good chance that Collin Sexton has been the most recognizable player on Utah's bench over the past few weeks.
Sexton's the first guy off the bench following every timeout, slapping hands with teammates and encouraging them. He's vocal in timeouts and on the bench, talking with players who recently checked out while giving pointers. He's so involved that he's constantly in the ear of Hardy during games, pointing out what he sees from the bench with the hope of being involved.
But as the point guard continues to rehab from numerous hamstring injuries, he hasn't let the pain of not playing disrupt himself from still being involved — and head coach Will Hardy has noticed.
Speaking with media following Utah's victory over Orlando on Thursday, Hardy was asked about Sexton's new role and how he's been able to stay so present with the team. But before diving into how attentive and active he's been on the bench, Hardy first spoke about the joy and happiness that Sexton exudes every day.
"That's Collin. … Collin loves basketball, Collin loves being on a team," Hardy said. "He has one of the purest elements of joy to him. … There's part of him that's still just a kid playing basketball with his friends. He works very hard, he's very diligent, but he's fired up for his teammates, he's engaged in the locker room, he always has a big smile on his face."
While everything he's done has been beneficial for the team, it hasn't been easy from a competitive standpoint.
"It's very tough, it's very tough for me," Sexton said. "At the end of the day, I know I can bring energy in other ways. I'm seeing the game in a different way that I know will not just help me, but help the team when I come back. I know when I'm out there, my teammates are going to root for me — so when I'm on the bench, I'm going to make sure they know that I support them 100%."
"That's just who Collin is," Hardy added. "His energy is the same as if he was playing. … He's pouring it into the game, he's very focused, he's listening in the timeouts. He wants to win, he wants our team to win. … It comes from a really pure place."
Make no mistake, while lessons are being learned on the bench, Sexton wants to be out on the court. His competitive nature is arguably his greatest asset on the court, so while he's still rehabbing, the bull in him is dying to break out.
"He's dying to play. … Dying," Hardy said. "He's getting close. It's frustrating because he's such a competitor and he wants to be out there. … He finds a way to channel all that energy to let it rip on the bench.
While Sexton appreciates that Hardy and his teammates have noticed what energy he's bringing on the bench, he also laughs when asked if he's been told to calm down. With new NBA rules being enforced this season about players standing in the corner, Sexton has yet to be warned by an official.
"It hasn't happened yet, but I'm hoping it does," Sexton said with a grin. "I know when we played San Antonio, Pop (Gregg Popovich) was on me about it but nothing from the officials yet. I'm going to keep on doing it until I'm told not to."
While Sexton hasn't been told yet, officials have warned Hardy on more than one occasion — and he openly tells them he can do nothing.
"I've had to tell him to sit down multiple times because of the new rule where you can't stand in the corner," Hardy added with a smile. "I've had multiple officials say, 'Hey, you gotta tell Sexton to sit down.' And I'm like, 'I'm trying, but I can't really control him — that's how he is.'"
As his return gets closer by the day, it means that Hardy will notice Sexton on the court more than the bench — and that's a good thing. Because that night in Orlando, Hardy was more focused on what Sexton was wearing than the message he gave teammates.
A self-proclaimed person who doesn't have much style, Hardy joked postgame about Sexton's attire for the Orlando game — an outfit that he says he could never pull off.
"That's a terrible shirt he wore tonight, though," Hardy said. "He's like 40 years late on that shirt, I think it was' 80-something. When I saw him, I didn't know if we were going to a concert or I didn't know what was happening. . … I don't have much style, so I probably shouldn't comment on this."
Sexton is continuing treatment and progressing as expected. He will miss Saturday's game against the Celtics and will be reevaluated on Monday.