The butler did it…again. Yesterday’s miraculous buzzer-beater lay-in by Matt Howard to beat Old Dominion had me reminiscing over Butler’s miraculous run last year to the national championship game as a five-seed. Does this mean we’re in for a repeat performance? Not so sure. You see, there’s a certain breadstick-eating, prepubescent-looking piece missing from this year’s team that was crucial in the Bulldogs’ triumphant run last year. That boyish charm I’m referring to is none other than Gordon Hayward, who bolted to the NBA after his epic sophomore season in Indianapolis.
Only in his first year as a pro with the Utah Jazz, he has already experienced the loss of a Hall of Fame coach and an All-Star point guard – which is a lot for any player to handle, let alone a 20-year-old rook. We caught up with Gordo to talk pre-game meals, his relationship with Deron Williams and his picks for March Madness.
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Dime: First off, what’s this I hear about you buying 5,555 meatball-pepperoni subs if a five-seed wins the tourney?
Gordon Hayward: I was on a five-seed last year in the tourney and we made it to the finals. If a five-seed wins the whole tournament this year, I will buy 5,555 meatball-pepperoni subs from Subway.
Dime: Let’s talk about your eating habits. What’s the best pre-game meal that you try and have?
GH: A turkey-provolone sub from Subway with chips and maybe a cookie… definitely a couple Powerades too. I really find that I just like eating that everyday; it’s good food for me and it’s healthy. Usually there’s a Subway in almost every city, so it’s convenient.
Dime: We heard you were a fan of Olive Garden breadsticks too…
GH: (laughs) Yeah… I think it got blown up a little bit, but I think that one thing people didn’t about while I was in New York City was that I went to Subway for lunch too. But those are just familiar good places to me.
Dime: What’s it like being in your first season and having your coach and best player leave the team?
GH: Well, it’s been an up and down season. I think the whole recognition of Coach Sloan leaving and D-Will getting traded opens up your eyes to the fact that the NBA is a business and the guys at the top have to make business decisions to what they believe will help the team out the most. We were successful earlier in the season and then kind of went through a cold slump. We’re trying to fight and claw our way back into this playoff race. But right now, we’re focused on winning basketball games.
Dime: What was the reaction like in the locker room after hearing of Coach Sloan’s departure?
GH: I mean, it was kind of shocking because it came so quickly – it was just suddenly brought upon us. I got a phone call that said Coach Sloan is resigning, we’re going to have normal shootaround and so forth. Man, it just hits you, like they’re actually gone. I can’t imagine the Utah fans whom that’s all they knew about the Utah Jazz was Coach Sloan – who’s been coaching longer than I was alive – what they were going through. I think he was a great coach, but at the same time it is an organization with players and we’ve got to be with Coach Ty and know that he’s capable of leading.
Dime: Was it the same reaction for Deron getting traded?
GH: It opens up your eyes to the fact that it’s a business. No one – no matter if you’re an All-Star – is incapable of being traded. I remember I walked into the training room and he was with guys laughing and the next minute you hear the news that he’s gone, that he’s traded. I was like, “Man that was quick!” So obviously some of the other guys were much more emotional on the team. He’s been here his whole career, so I’m sure it was more difficult emotionally for them. But he was a great guy to play with and obviously an All-Star point guard and it’s tough to replace a guy like him, but at the same time we’ve got great new players and they’ve blended in great with us.
Dime: How close were you to Deron?
GH: I mean, he was a teammate first and foremost. I think he was a heck of a point guard and a competitive guy, so when he was on the court or at practice he’s all about winning, picking winning plays and trying to help the team win. There are times when you’re getting into it with him and there are other times when you’re high-fiving. It was a short relationship. I really didn’t get to spend too much time with him besides on the court or in practice or travel. I know he has a family and just had another child, so congratulations to him on that. Like I said, it was great to be able to play with him for a little bit.
Dime: You guys have been struggling as of late to pull a string of wins together. What do you guys need to work on to get over this hump?
GH: I think defensively, if we come together as a unit and start to execute our philosophy, our defensive philosophy, all five guys together will start to pull some wins together. I think when we play good defense and are able to get some stops, at least your offense can get out and run the floor and get some easy baskets, which is what we’re looking to do. I think it all starts on defense.
Dime: What’s it been like having Derrick Favors and Devin Harris join he team?
GH: When you get two new guys in, it’s obviously going to be difficult for them coming in trying to learn new plays, new coaches, new players – even for us, we’ve got different players. We’ve got to try and learn what they like to do and where to get them the ball in situations for them to be successful. But I think they’ve done a great job coming in and have competed and played hard, which is all that you can ask for. Like I said, if we get stops on defense on that end of the floor, it will lead to good things on the offensive end.
Dime: So what has been the biggest transition for you coming from college to the NBA?
GH: The biggest adjustment has definitely been mentally. For one, it’s a long season, and that’s a lot of games to be prepared and focused to play. Second, going from being the guy who always gets the ball and who’s always on the court to a team where everyone was a superstar, where everyone can play and sometimes you just have to take your time on the sidelines and just kind of cheer on your teammates and wait for your time to go out and compete and do a good job, mentally it’s a big adjustment.
Dime: Is there anything you wish you knew in terms of schedule, practice or travel before making it to the League that would have helped you?
GH: I talked to a lot of NBA guys before I made this decision, so I kind of knew what was expected. It kind of has been all that I’ve expected. They tell you it’s a long season and they tell you it’s a lot of games, but you don’t really know what that’s like unless you’re in it. It is a grind, but it is the best job in the world.
Dime: Who do you hang out with the most on the team?
GH: My best friend on the team is definitely Jeremy Evans. He came in as a rookie with me and we get all the rookie duties together; got to carry the pink backpacks together. He’s kind of a similar age to me, we both have similar situations, and we both don’t have families or anything, so we both like to kick it outside the court. We’ll go to movies and go out to eat and stuff like that. I was also able to check him out when he was in the D-League for a bit too.
Dime: What was the craziest thing you had to do for rookie duties?
GH: I have to get bagels in the morning and he gets donuts, and other than that, if one of the vets says, “Hey rook do this,” or if they kick the ball in the stands and ask us to get it, then obviously I’m going to go do it. But honestly, it hasn’t been that hard and I appreciate it.
Dime: Any road trip essentials that you know you need to bring with you?
GH: Got to have the MacBook when you go on the road, watch movies, get on Facebook, Twitter, play video games, so those are def some things you got to have. I’m big into Halo and I like to play the computer game StarCraft.
Dime: Let’s talk some college ball. How do you predict the Bulldogs are going to do in the tourney this year?
GH: First, I’m happy to be able to watch them kind of as a fan. I think it’s going to be fun to just sit back, because some of those guys are my best friends and to be able to see them out there on the floor playing as a fan instead of being more involved is going to be great. Butler has been playing well down the stretch and hopefully they’ll do well.
Dime: Any sleeper picks?
GH: I like Kansas State as a five-seed. They’ve got Jacob Pullen who’s a great guard and has been winning games down the stretch, so we’ll see how they do.
Dime: Which players do you expect to have a big tournament?
GH: I’m obviously excited to watch Jimmer and Kemba Walker, and the whole Duke roster with Kyle Singler will be great to watch as well.
Dime: If you had to choose a player to take the final shot with the game on the line, who would it be?
GH: I’m going to have to go with Kemba Walker based on what he did in the Big East Tournament. Some of the shots that he’s made have been crazy, so I’d put the ball in his hands.
Dime: Fondest memory from the tournament?
GH: I think the most memorable thing was when we won in Salt Lake and realized that we were going to go home for the Final Four. We had a long ride back, it must’ve been one or two in the morning when we got back to Conseco Fieldhouse and it was packed with students, fans and friends and we could hardly get off the bus! So that was pretty cool to get home that late and have all that support.
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