Hayward prepping for USA Select Team, future

Jun 28, 2012 | by Brent Glasgow, The Flyer Group

Former Brownsburg Bulldog Gordon Hayward has experienced some of the greatest thrills in sports, but when he suits up for the USA Basketball Men’s Select Team next month, he’ll feel something only one thing can provide.

Along with 12 other NBA players, Hayward will be in Las Vegas July 5-12 to train with and scrimmage against the Men’s National Team that will compete in the upcoming London Olympics.

“There is nothing like playing with your country’s name across your chest and representing them,” said Hayward, who helped the U.S. win the under-19 world championship three years ago. “I know we’re not competing against other countries, but to get the U.S. team ready to hopefully go to London and take the gold is great, and there’s no better way to get better than to play against those guys.”

It will be another growth opportunity for Hayward, who is coming off of his second season with the Utah Jazz. Hayward saw his minutes per game nearly double over his rookie year, while his points average rose from 5.4 to 11.8.

“It was good to have a year under my belt and know the game a little bit,” Hayward said. “The guys are obviously the best in the world, and it’s an adjustment that you have to make. I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted to this season but put up better numbers, so I was pretty happy with it.”

One season highlight came during All-Star Weekend in Orlando, where Hayward and Jazz teammate Derrick Favors, who will join Hayward on the Select squad, helped their team to a 146-133 win in the Rising Stars Challenge.

“It was pretty crazy, especially at the hotel, being with all the players and the fans,” Hayward said. “It was a lot of fun to be a part of.”

With the regular season winding down, Utah won seven of its final nine games, including five in a row at the end to reach the postseason. Hayward averaged 16.1 points in April, including a season-high 29 against Houston.

“We really wanted to make the playoffs, and really had to come in and give it our best,” Hayward said. “Some guys got hurt down the stretch, but a lot of guys stepped up.”

Utah ran into San Antonio in the first round, and the top-seeded Spurs swept the Jazz in four mostly-lopsided games.

“It was a learning experience for us because we had a lot of young guys who were able to soak that up,” Hayward said. “The Spurs were just playing tremendous basketball, from their best player to their last. We have to learn from it and use it for motivation for next season.”

Hayward is optimistic for the NBA prospects of good friend and former Brownsburg teammate Julian Mavunga.

“I remember when we’d talk about (both being in the NBA) back when we were freshmen and sophomores in high school,” Hayward said. “I hope that teams are able to see how good of a player he is. To have another player from the same town in the NBA, and who’s one of my best friends, it would be something special.”

Another good friend, Ronald Nored, is now at the helm of the Brownsburg program which Hayward and Mavunga led to the 2008 Class 4A state title. The two became close during their days at Butler and the team’s run to the 2010 national championship game, and the relationship has been strong ever since.

“I’m really excited for him,” Hayward said. “The town of Brownsburg couldn’t have gotten a better person to run the program.”

Other than the trip to Vegas, Hayward will be in the area most of the summer, working out twice a day. He has plenty of short- and long-term aspirations, including a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Olympics as a member of the Men’s National Team.

“It definitely is a goal,” Hayward said. “It’s something I dreamed about when I was little. I’m taking the next step in getting there. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m on my way.”

Tags: Gordon Hayward , Utah Jazz