NEW YORK -- He walked toward his table slowly, inconspicuously weaving in and out of a throng of reporters that had packed a fifth floor ballroom at the Times Square hotel. Wearing a white striped button up, the J.D. McCoy look-alike sported a mop top haircut that looked like it was 30 minutes removed from a shower. Only Gordon Hayward's slender 6-foot-8, 211-pound frame distinguished him from the crowd.
And that's the question with Hayward, really: In the NBA, just how exactly will he stand out? Of the potential draft picks, Hayward's story is one of the most intriguing. A relative unknown entering his sophomore season at Butler, Hayward saw his stock soar when the Brownsburg, Ind., native led the Bulldogs on an improbable run to the NCAA title game that ended when Hayward's potential game-winning halfcourt heave came thisclose to banking in at the buzzer.
After such a heartbreaking defeat, many expected Hayward, the Horizon League Player of the Year, to return to Butler for his junior season. With four of their five starters coming back, the Bulldogs would have been considered among the favorites to get back to the Final Four. Hayward, however, wasn't so sure. A few weeks after the season, he sat down for lunch with his father, Gordon Sr., who had been diligently researching his son's draft potential, and scratched out a pros and cons list for coming back to school.
"Pro, you get to go back to Butler, compete for another national championship," said Hayward. "That's a big pro. If you go to the NBA, you get to compete against the best players in the world and play basketball for a living. And you don't have to worry about school. That's a con [for returning], for sure."
The more the two talked, the longer the con list grew and by the end of the afternoon Hayward had made his decision.
"It was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made," Hayward said. "Talking to my coaches was like breaking up with them. But my dad did a great job getting info from agents and scouts. Basketball wise, it was a no-brainer."
But was it? As the shine from the tournament has worn off, questions about Hayward's NBA-readiness have become more frequent. Size is a big issue. Hayward estimates he has gained between five to 10 pounds since the end of his college season but will need to pack on at least 10 more to have any hope of surviving the physical grind of an 82-game season.
Defensively, there are even bigger questions.
"Who is he going to guard?" asked an Eastern Conference GM with a lottery pick. "I don't think he's quick enough to defend three-guards and he's nowhere near strong enough to hang with fours."
Shooting is considered Hayward's biggest asset. He shot 46.4 percent at Butler last season and his quick release seems to make him an ideal catch-and-shoot NBA player. But he connected on just 29.4 percent of his three-point attempts last season, a surprisingly low number for someone with such a fluid stroke.
Still, interest in Hayward has been high. Eleven teams worked him out before the draft, many of which are enthralled with the potential of the former high school JV player who used to sit at the end of the varsity bench nervously hoping the coach didn't call his name. A league source told SI.com that Indiana is "very interested" in snatching the local star at No. 10. Yahoo! Sports reported on Thursday that Oklahoma City is frantically trying to get into the top 10 to land Hayward, and SI.com's latest mock draft has Utah scooping him up at No. 9.
Will they be disappointed? Butler hasn't had an NBA player since 1953. Hayward says he is ready to break that streak and that his goal is to cast aside any Adam Morrisson-like comparisons from Day 1.
"I think I'm a complete player," said Hayward. "I've come a long way. We're paid to win games, to win a championship. With that paycheck comes responsibilities. I'm ready for them."
Of the big men available in Thursday's draft, Georgia Tech freshman DerrickFavors is considered by many to have the most potential. How long it will take the 18-year-old to reach that potential is subject to debate.
"I know some people have questioned me about my age and how long it will take me to be a regular contributor on an NBA team," said Favors. "But I think that depends on how hard I work during this offseason and next season."
Favors and Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins are expected to be the first two bigs selected in the draft, adding to a rivalry between the two that began in high school. Favors and Cousins worked out together for three teams in the last month, spirited workouts Favors describes as "competitive."
"I've been playing against him in high school and AAU and it's always fun," said Favors. "He's one of the best big men I have ever played against. We both went at each other."
The NBA pre-draft media availability looked like a Kentucky reunion, with Cousins, John Wall and Patrick Patterson taking over three tables in the back of the ballroom. While Cousins and Patterson expressed excitement about being a likely lottery pick, both admitted part of them wished they could have finished what they started with the Wildcats.
"We all came in with the mindset to win the national championship and we failed," said Cousins. "Me personally, I really thought I was coming back. I still think about it now, like 'man I wish I had gone back.'"
Added Patterson: "It was extremely tempting [to come back]. We talked about it. We were like 'hey man, if we come back next year we can get this done.' We had that bitter taste in our mouth. We didn't want to go out like that."
While Wall was considered one-and-done all season, Patterson said the rest of the team still believed they could win a national championship without him.
"We knew Coach [John Calipari] was going to get another point guard," said Patterson. "Every year he seems to get elite players, especially at the point guard position. We knew if we wanted to stay the point guard position was going to be filled with a great player."
Cousins says the biggest change in his life since declaring for the draft has been the number of friends and family that have come out of the woodwork.
"People are calling me, people I haven't heard from in years," said Cousins. "Oh my God, they ask for jobs, a room in your house. They say I'm your cousin, do you remember me? I'm your brother on your dad's side. It's crazy."
The triangle offense is considered one of the most complicated to offenses to learn in the NBA. But Syracuse's Wesley Johnson says it suits him just fine. Johnson said he felt extremely comfortable working out in the triangle in Minnesota.
"Every set I did in it [during the workout], I was loving," said Johnson. "I was picking up on it real quick. It's fun to come off screens in a certain area and hit spots where I know I'm going to get the ball. I think those are my strong points. I pay attention to detail real well.