"Middle Of Your Dream" | Hardy Reflects On First Season As Leading Man Of The Utah Jazz

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

You hear basketball players say it all the time. The NBA is a business.

While that statement is true, it's what players constantly tell themselves — and the outside world — to help process the changes throughout a career.

It's what both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert said last summer when they were traded. It's what Jazz GM Justin Zanik and CEO of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge said when asked about those trades that drastically changed the organization's future.

But just because the NBA at its core is a business, that also doesn't mean it can't be fun — and that's precisely what Will Hardy brought to the Jazz.

"It's like if you're laughing and smiling, then you're being goofy, and you don't care about winning," he said. "I just don't think that those two things are mutually exclusive. … I think you can do both."

In his first season since taking over as the leading man in Utah, Hardy instilled a sense of belief in his core principles. While the rookie head coach has often stated words like toughness, sacrifice, and passion, he's been constantly preaching one other mantra for the last nine months.

"I wanted us to have fun," he said. "Our goal from the outset was to try and create an environment that our players wanted to be in every day. I never want any player to dread coming to the gym. … I think we were able to accomplish that this year. I think our team played with a tenacity and a competitiveness, but they also played with a level of joy."

Although he never played in the league, Hardy has been around the NBA for over a decade. It's given him a unique perspective on relating to his players, understanding that they must live in and enjoy the moment.

"If they were 16 years old, their dream was to make it to the NBA. … Right now, they're in the middle of a dream, and you're allowed to enjoy it," he said. "This should be the best time in your life. There's a day where it's all over, you'll look back, and it's all just memories at that point."

"We try our best to remind the players that you can be competitive, you can be professional, you can care about winning, you care about all the right stuff, and you can enjoy it. … You can be a 23-year-old professional basketball player in the middle of your dream."

When speaking on Wednesday for his first end-of-season media availability, Hardy detailed what he hopes to build on after this past season; player development. He explained his philosophy that each player should focus on being elite at a few things rather than being good at many things.

"Wanting to 'get better at everything,' I think that's really dangerous," he said. "I totally understand wanting to improve everything, but you just don't have that much time. … I think for young players to actually make significant jumps, you do need to hone in on maybe a couple of things."

"Our biggest job is helping them prioritize what to get better at," Hardy added. "We had a player come in yesterday who had six things written down that he thought were important to him, and he asked me to rank them. And so I ranked them 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10. That's only to give him the visual of, 'If you get these two right, then you're gonna make a big jump. And then in the future, we can tackle 7, 8, 9, 10.' But if I label them 1 through 6, it doesn't give the relationship between those things."