LAS VEGAS – Ask anyone who has knocked around USA Basketball’s mini-camp this week to name the player who has raised the most eyebrows and Gordon Hayward‘s name will come up. The Utah Jazz swingman showed up here this summer with a simple game plan and the perfect blueprint of how to execute that plan.
“They just want you to play hard and compete in everything you do,” Hayward said. “This camp is full of stars, so you’re not going to impress anyone trying to showboat or do anything spectacular. Everybody in this gym has seen it all plenty of times before. [U.S.] Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski lays it all out for you from the start. And if you listen, it’s pretty simple.”
Simple is the opposite of what awaits Hayward and Jazz big man and fellow mini-camp participant Derrick Favors when they get back to Salt Lake City for training camp. No longer are these two lottery picks from 2010 going to operate in the shadows. They’re going to have to step into leadership roles for a young Jazz team that saw seven free agents depart for other destinations this summer.
Hayward will be the team’s leading returning scorer next season after averaging a career-high 14.1 points while logging 27 starting assignments. Favors is the second-leading returning scorer (9.4 points to go along with his 7.1 rebounds in just 23.2 minutes), after starting just eight games while playing behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
They will be the foundation for a green starting five that also includes Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and rookie point guard Trey Burke. Hayward, 23, will be the oldest member of that group and the most seasoned. It’s a role that Hayward seems more than ready to handle, based on his showing here this week and on the Select Team that worked out against the star-studded crew that won gold at the London Olympics last summer.
“He’s been very impressive,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. “He’s a very impressive player. He knows how to play. He’s aggressive. He can shoot the ball. He’s made a mark in both camps, last year and this year.”
The same goes for Favors, who has spent most of his time this summer in Salt Lake City under thew watchful eye of Jazz great and Hall of Famer Karl Malone. It’s been summer school that Favors, an Atlanta native, says is absolutely necessary if he’s going to realize his potential sooner rather than later.
“There’s no hiding anymore,” Favors said. “I had to tell my mom and my family back home that it was important for me to stay [in Salt Lake City] and put in the work. I couldn’t let myself get home and get too comfortable. There is so much riding on this summer and this season for myself and [Hayward]. I don’t know what they’ve told him but I know I’ve got be ready to go right now. It’s on me and Enes to hold it down up front now that Al and Paul have moved on.”
Hayward’s looked more like the college star he was at Butler during his time here this week than he has the role player he was asked to be in his first three seasons in the league. His ballhandling, slashing and athleticism have been on full display. He’s more than held his own on defense, too, sticking out in this talented crowd on both ends regularly.
“That’s what you love about things like this,” said Favors, who will team up with Hayward on the Blue team in Thursday night’s intrasquad showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. “I know how good he is. I’ve seen him do this stuff in practice every day. But it’s been funny to talk to some of these other guys and see how impressed they are with Gordon this week.”
Hayward said he’s sticking to the plan this week and making sure to ready himself for the increased role he’ll play for the Jazz when summer school is over.
“It’s something Coach K talked about on the first day,” Hayward said. “You have to adapt, adapt the way you play and be a versatile player. Out here, you know, you’re just one of the guys. But when you get back to your respective teams you’re going to be a more dominant player and have a much bigger role. They want me to be more of a leader next season and Derrick and I have talked about it. We’re excited about it. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re both naturally quiet guys so we’re going to have to be more vocal and get on guys when we have to. But it’s time, it’s time for us to be the leaders.”