C's Stevens, Jazz's Hayward reunite but as opponents

C's Stevens, Jazz's Hayward reunite but as opponents
November 6, 2013, 8:45 pm
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BOSTON - Brad Stevens knows plenty about his Celtics players by now.

But all of that pales in comparison to what he knows about a player on the opposite end of the court – Utah’s Gordon Hayward.

Stevens coached Hayward at Butler, where the two were influential in the growth of the program all the way up to the National Championship game in 2010.

Butler lost that game, as Hayward’s half-court heave at the buzzer came up just short, but Stevens remembers Hayward for just about everything but that shot.

"My memories of him as a player are his growth,” Stevens said, “how far he came in a short amount of time, and how many big plays he made to really take us to uncharted waters.”

Of course, Hayward would never have taken Butler there if he just went to Purdue – where both his parents attended. But upon meeting Bradley, Hayward knew Butler was the place for him.

"He was just a great guy, number one,” Hayward said of meeting Stevens. “I loved what he stood for as a person and treated everybody that he recruited as family. I loved that about it, it was a family atmosphere first and foremost and obviously the basketball was pretty great as well. He's a good coach and I liked what he stood for.”

But Hayward was known more for his tennis skills in high school, having been ranked near the top in the entire state of Indiana. Stevens attended one tennis match of Hayward’s, where not only did Hayward lose, but he lost while wearing a Purdue hat and Purdue shorts, something Stevens joked he wasn’t too happy with.

But even so, he saw something in Hayward that perhaps other coaches didn’t see, and told him he could be in the NBA someday.

"Yeah, what a great prediction that was,” Stevens said sarcastically. “Pretty obvious when you see him now. He was a 6-foot-7 gangly kid that was a great tennis player that committed to us on June 1st, and really didn't pick up a basketball until September, other than maybe Sunday mornings in games with his dad, because he wanted to win a state championship in tennis.”

The tennis championship didn’t come, but there were obviously bigger and better things waiting for Hayward. Once he was full-on basketball, the rest was history.

Hayward helped Butler to a 24-5 record in his freshman year, and was by far the best player on the team the next year when Butler went to the championship. But he credits Stevens for always having him and the team prepared for the next opponent, and not losing his cool or train of thought.

That could certainly come in handy in what appears to be a trying season for the Celtics.

"He's just always calm,” Hayward said of Stevens. “No matter what situation we were in, he always knew what we needed to do and communicated that with us extremely well. As a player, when your leader is calm and collected, it kind of makes you relaxed as well. I think he was able to be so calm because of the preparation he did before. He was always prepared and he taught us to always be prepared too.”

At Celtics training camp earlier this year, numerous players commented on how “detail-oriented” Stevens was. Those same two words came out of Hayward’s mouth too, as he explained that there were times Stevens would kick the team out of practice if they weren’t concentrating properly.

“[He’s] extremely detail-oriented. When you're not focusing on his details, he gets pretty upset about that,” Hayward said.

Hayward and the Jazz did not come to terms on a contract extension, before last Thursday’s deadline, and he will become a restricted free agent in the offseason.

Perhaps the two could still win a championship together after all.