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Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward wants to create more good memories in Beehive State

SALT LAKE CITY — A snip of net from EnergySolutions Arena — taken in the midst of March Madness, after Butler University's improbable Elite Eight win at the arena during last season's NCAA Tournament — is stashed in a desk drawer at home in Indiana.

The trip to Utah then was so fruitful for NBA Draft prospect Gordon Hayward that his coach at Butler, Brad Stevens, advised him to "take in that air" because there are "good memories there."

The text message arrived Saturday, when the 20-year-old swingman was traveling here for a workout Sunday morning in front of Jazz brass.

"I loved that gym," Hayward said in reference to the home of what could be his very own future NBA team.

For all that went so well during Butler's run to the NCAA title game, though, it isn't anything that happened in Salt Lake City, not even the upset victories over higher-seeded Syracuse and Kansas State, that will survive as Hayward's overwhelming remembrance of it all.

It isn't a Final Four semifinal win over Michigan State at Butler's hometown of Indianapolis, either.

Shoot, it isn't even how a nation embraced the syrupy Cinderella story of a team of bona fide Hoosiers.

Rather, it's what went wrong.

April agony, a 61-59 loss to Duke in the championship game.

Hayward's fadeaway jumper from the baseline in the waning seconds that he "thought was going in, for sure," but did not.

His desperation half-court heave that first struck backboard — "I wasn't trying to bank it" — and then caught rim as time expired but simply did not fall.

"The one lasting memory will be — I mean, it's not a good memory, but — will be us losing and missing those shots," Hayward said. "Because I hate losing — and we hadn't lost in 24, 25 games or something.

"It was tough, just because I wanted to win so bad for the guys on my team. Like I said, I hate losing, and so, although those memories before that will be something I'll never forget, that memory at the end is gonna be lasting for sure."

At the time, the end of his sophomore season, the notion of declaring early for the NBA Draft is something Hayward — raised as a tennis-playing point guard but now a wing player known as a strong shooter — says was not even in his mind.

The tournament, he said, afforded him "exposure."

Even before Butler's tourney run, though, the 2009-10 Horizon League Player of the Year already was on NBA radars.

He emerged there last offseason, when he helped lead USA Basketball to gold at the Under-19 World Championships in New Zealand.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, for one, isn't surprised to see Hayward exit school early.

But after watching what he deemed to be one the best pre-draft workouts he's seen in his 10-plus years as GM in Utah — likely top-10 pick Al-Farouq Aminu of Wake Forest took part, as did lottery hopeful Xavier Henry of Kansas; first-round probables Luke Bobbitt of Nevada and Damion Jones of Texas; and second-round hopeful Ryan Thompson of Rider — O'Connor suggested it's apparent what the Indiana native needs to thrive at the next level.

"He's got to get bigger and stronger physically," O'Connor said.

Hayward — measured at 6-foot-6 and 3/4" without shoes, 6-8 with, and 211 pounds at the recent NBA pre-draft camp — readily concedes that.

"Obviously, I'm gonna need some more strength," he said, "so when I drive, I'll be able to take some blows and keep my balance and finish still."

That established, though, a lean frame for now evidently hasn't dissuaded the Jazz, who are thought by some to be focused primarily on bigs, from considering using their No. 9 overall pick in the June 24 draft on perimeter-playing Hayward.

"On the same terminology," O'Connor said, "Andrei (Kirilenko, the Jazz's one-time All-Star small forward) came here 215 pounds, too, and played pretty well."

It's possible, then, that Hayward, who already has also worked out for Toronto, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State, and next will be in Miami, can continue making memories here in Utah.

Wherever it is that he winds up — Hayward said he's more "worried about where I'm going, as (opposed) to what number" — is bound to get at least a decent-shooting hustle player, a la the sort that makes the likes of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan smile.

And if it just happens to be the Jazz that take him — some draft pundits suggest nine would be rather high; others are convinced he's a top-10 pick — that would suit Hayward just fine.

"If was to be lucky enough to be drafted by them," he said, "I think it could work."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com