Gordon Hayward and his mid-major team have grown into the role of contender.
This article appears in the November 23, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
If Gordon Hayward plays like a guard trapped in a forward's body, it's because he is. Hayward wasn't projected to be taller than 6' 2", so his father, Gordon Sr., who coached him until high school, had his son develop his ballhandling skills and outside shooting on the court he painted on the family's driveway. Gordon Jr. notes that he spent much of his time shooting from behind the arc, or thereabouts, because the three-point line was "a little slanted." Then he shot up, sprouting from 5' 10" as a freshman at Brownsburg (Ind.) High to 6' 8" as a senior. "I grew," he says, "and my guard skills came with me."
Hayward has added another inch in the last year, and his team has grown along with him. The Bulldogs -- who were picked to finish fifth in the Horizon League last year after the departure of four starters -- went 26-6 his freshman season and reached the NCAA tournament. Now the starting five are back, including Hayward, who was named the league's top rookie, and 6' 8" junior forward Matt Howard, the conference's reigning player of the year.
All Hayward's long-range bombing on that banked blacktop back home has paid off. After shooting 44.8% from beyond the three-point line as a freshman -- as well as leading the Bulldogs in minutes (32.7) and steals (48) -- Hayward was selected (along with guard Shelvin Mack) to the U.S.'s under-19 team this summer. He averaged 10.0 points and 5.7 rebounds for Team USA, which won the gold medal at the FIBA World Championships in New Zealand, and was named to the all-tournament team.
Since March 2008, when Hayward corralled a loose ball and hit a buzzer beater that lifted Brownsburg to the Class 4A state title, his teams have gone 35-6. "He has exceptional savvy and understanding of the game," says Butler coach Brad Stevens. "He consistently makes the right play."
Hayward may finally be done growing, but he and his team should reach new heights.
-- Joe Lemire
Issue date: November 23, 2009