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Where Are They Now: Gordon Hayward

The 2010 Horizon League Player of the Year has blossomed into one of the NBA’s best young players.

Andy Lyons

If you are a fan of college basketball, you undoubtedly remember the name Gordon Hayward.

In the 2010 NCAA Tournament, Hayward and the Butler Bulldogs were the "Cinderella story" of the tournament, making a run all the way to the summit. Ultimately, as history cruelly reminds us, the Bulldogs lost to Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils, 61-59, and in the closing seconds of that game it was Hayward who heaved up a shot from half court that hit the backboard, and the front of the rim before falling to the ground.

Although that shot did not fall and although Butler's hopes of shocking the world were dashed, Gordon Hayward's career was only beginning.

As was the case for most of Butler's players under then-head coach Brad Stevens, Hayward was from the state of Indiana.  At the onset of his high school career, Hayward was a 5-foot-10 point guard. Thinking that he would remain at the height his entire life -- as this is the height of both of his parents -- he initially focused more on the sport of tennis than the sport of basketball. By the time his senior year of high school rolled around, however, Hayward had grown 10 inches to the height of 6-foot-8. He averaged 18.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists that season, leading his team to the Indiana 4A State Championship, in which he hit a layup at the buzzer to win it.

This breakout led to the interest of three schools: Purdue, IUPUI, and Butler. Hayward ultimately chose Butler because the practices were early enough that they would not interfere with his plans to major in computer engineering.

Once he arrived at Butler, Hayward picked up right where he left off. His freshman year saw him average 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, helping Butler to a 26-5 season and a Horizon League Championship. It was the summer following his freshman year though that really got people in basketball circles talking about Gordon Hayward.  In July 2009, Hayward was selected for Team USA in the FIBA U-19 World Championship, alongside players such as Kansas Jayhawks point guard Tyshawn Taylor, and fellow Butler Bulldog, Shelvin Mack. Hayward averaged 10 points and 5.7 rebounds for the gold medal-winning Team USA, and along with Taylor was named to the All-Tournament Team.

His success in the FIBA Tournament led to him being named to numerous All-American teams, and was a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith Awards entering his sophomore season.

Butler had a bit of a shaky start to their season. Despite being the 10th best team in the country to open the season, they dropped early season contests to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Clemson Tigers, and Georgetown Hoyas. By the time conference play rolled around, however, the Bulldogs got back on track. Butler went 18-0 in conference play and clinched their fourth consecutive Horizon League Championship. Hayward was the only player to finish in the Top 5 in scoring and rebounding in the Horizon League and was named the Horizon League Player of the Year. When Selection Sunday rolled around, Butler drew the dreaded 5-seed in the West Region. After taking care of the 12-seeded UTEP Miners in the first round, Butler survived a close game with the Murray State Racers to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Hayward had the play of the game in the final seconds when he deflected a Racer pass into the backcourt as time expired, preserving Butler's two-point victory.

The second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for Butler kicked off with their toughest test of the season: Jim Boeheim's top-seeded Syracuse Orange. Butler stormed out to a 12-1 lead out of the gates, and a 35-25 lead at halftime. They never looked back, winning 63-59. With a trip to their home of Indianapolis for the Final Four at stake, Butler faced off with the Kansas State Wildcats in the Elite 8. After a back and forth affair, Butler pulled out the win thanks largely to Hayward's 22 points and nine rebounds. After this game, Hayward received yet another accolade as he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the West Region.

So Hayward, and the Bulldogs, had captured the hearts of the nation and began drawing comparisons to the movie "Hoosiers" from the national media leading up to the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium. The semifinal matchup was yet another tough test, as they took on Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans. Hayward, once again, provided the biggest moment of the game by grabbing a rebound on a Korie Lucious free throw, up by two points, thereby preventing Michigan State from being able to get the ball back and attempt to tie or win.

After the victory against the Spartans, Hayward and the Bulldogs were just one win away from the most improbable of national championships. All that was standing in their way were the Duke Blue Devils. As alluded to in the introduction, and as we are reminded, Butler was not able to take mighty Duke down, but it was not from a lack of effort on Hayward's part. Although he shot 18.1 percent (2-11 FG) from the field, he hit eight free throws, grabbed eight rebounds, and very nearly buried the shot that would have joined Lorenzo Charles and Christian Laettner in NCAA Tournament lore.

Although Butler could not win the title, the one player everyone around the country was talking about afterwards was Gordon Hayward.

With all this newfound attention came whispers that the Indiana native might forgo his final two seasons for the National Basketball Associatoin. As early as the FIBA Tournament, agents had been calling he and his parents. As one would expect, these calls intensified.  On April 14, 2010, Hayward declared for the NBA Draft but did not yet hire an agent, in case of a change of heart. In the months leading up to the NBA Draft, while Hayward balanced his workouts and final exams, his parents devised a rigorous 15-question survey to send to prospective agents.  The questions ranged from "What do you charge?" to "Should Gordon stay in the draft?" to "Whom do you recommend if we do not hire you?" As the eventual "winner", and Hayward's current agent, Mark Bartelstein, put it, "[Hayward's] parents wanted to leave no stone left unturned".

Hayward had until May 8 to withdraw from the draft. But, on May 7, he confirmed he would be forgoing his final two years at Butler to play in the NBA.  And on June 24, 2010, Hayward was picked ninth overall by the Utah Jazz. He became the first Butler player selected in the NBA Draft since 1950.

Hayward was used sparingly early in his rookie season with Utah, but as the season wore on his minutes increased. Perhaps the most notable game of his rookie season came against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 5, 2011. Hayward scored 22, collected six rebounds, and dished out five assists. His biggest impact that night though was on the defensive side of the ball. Matched up against future Basketball Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, Hayward held Bryant to a dreadful 33.3 percent from the floor (6-18 FG) and forced Bryant to commit seven turnovers.

In his second year as a pro, he was invited to his first All-Star Weekend, competing in the Rising Stars Challenge for Charles Barkley's victorious Team Chuck. The now former Bulldog scored 14 points with a field goal percentage of 62.5 percent (5-8 FG) and grabbed three rebounds in his 18 minutes of action.

At the end of the 2012-13 season, the two leading scorers for the Jazz -- Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap -- left the team in free agency. The 2013-14 campaign saw Hayward emerge as an offensive leader, averaging a new career high 16 points per game. His most notable was his career-high 37-point showing in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 9, 2014.

As the season came to a close, Hayward was one of five players, joining LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Michael Carter-Williams to average at least 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game over the course of the season per ESPN Stats & Info. Hayward was also set to become a restricted free agent for the first time in his career.  On July 10, 2014, the Charlotte Hornets extended an offer sheet to Hayward. Two days later, the Jazz announced they intended to retain Hayward, and signed him to a four year, $63 million contract extension.

Hayward's week got even better when, on July 14, it was announced by USA Basketball that he had made this summer's national men's basketball team.

Gordon Hayward is undoubtedly one of the most notable names in NCAA Tournament history. Unlike other notable names like Laettner or even Sean May, however, Hayward's proven he can play basketball at the NBA level, and is only just beginning to flourish.