Larry Brown Sports got the chance to visit with Utah Jazz rookie forward Gordon Hayward on Tuesday. Last year Hayward led five-seed Butler to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game against Duke as a sophomore. Hayward, who says he eats Subway on gamedays, is offering to buy 5,555 meatball pepperoni subs for Subway customers if a five-seed can win it all this March Madness. The odds are against the fives, but we visited with Hayward to hear his thoughts on who could get it done, how his rookie season is going, the changes with the Jazz, and whether he’s cooperating with the rookie hazing. We really started getting warmed up towards the end of the interview so make sure you read the whole way through.
LBS: I know you’re repping the five seeds for Subway, which one do you think has the best chance to advance?
GH: I played Kansas State last year and they’re very long and athletic, and they have a great guard in Jacob Pullen who can lead them down the stretch. That’s the five I think that has the best chance.
LBS: You were really able to build your draft stock in the tournament. Take me back to last year when you were thinking about entering the draft. How tough of a decision was that for you?
GH: It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. Coming from a program like Butler where they do things the right way, there’s great people there, it’s 20 minutes from my house and I had my friends and family there, so it was a very difficult decision.
LBS: And what about your decision to go to Butler, you happy with that?
GH: Oh yeah, that was the best decision I ever made.
LBS: I know you played a lot of tennis in high school, do you ever get a chance to these days?
GH: I actually haven’t played tennis since I lost in high school in the state tournament. Basketball was always my first love but tennis was right there, and I wanted to compete in both sports. I played multiple sports my whole life, so after I was done in tennis, I decided I was going to just concentrate on basketball at Butler. I haven’t had a chance to play tennis now I’ve been so busy with basketball. But tennis is a sport you can play until you’re 70 or 80 years old, so maybe I’ll pick up a racket down the road.
LBS: How far do you think you could have taken it had you concentrated on it?
GH: That’s a good question. You have to play year-round now if you want to be good. You never know what could have happened if I only played tennis.
LBS: I know you hurt your foot recently, how’s that looking?
GH: I actually practiced [Tuesday] and it felt a lot better. It’s been kinda sore, but I had an X-ray and it was negative, so hopefully I’ll continue to get treatment and get back onto the court as soon as I can.
LBS: It’s March right now and it’s a long season, what’s it like being in an NBA season compared to college? Is it more difficult?
GH: It’s a lot of games — 82 games is much more than two college seasons. So it is a grind and it’s mentally a grind with all the traveling. It is a job in every aspect of the word.
LBS: On Friday you had a really good game making all five of your threes, would you call it your best game of the season?
GH: I don’t know if it was the best of the season because we lost, but individually I did have a good game.
LBS: When you got drafted last year going to Utah, they’re one of the most stable organizations. They have great fans, one of the best coaches, and a team that’s been winning and makes the playoffs almost every single season. All of a sudden in your first year there’s changes. Have all of the changes surprised you?
GH: I think with all the changes it just opens up your eyes to the fact that this is a business. You can’t look at anybody and say they’re not untradeable. It was kind of shocking, especially being a rookie, you’re talking to Deron Williams one second and the next he’s traded to New Jersey, but it opens your eyes and makes you realize the NBA is a business.
LBS: Do you think it’s hurting competitive balance for the league? Do you think stars leaving the team that drafts them hurts the league?
GH: I don’t know that it necessarily hurts the league. I know there’s been a lot of changes this past year and the past off-season with a lot of the superstars changing teams. I think this year for the NBA was the best year they’ve ever had. I think the fans are into it, and everyone is high on the NBA. They’re doing well and we’ll have to see come playoff time how it all goes.
LBS: I read one of your tweets recently where you talked about having a hard time finding some donuts. Is that pretty typical where you have to get donuts as far as the rookie hazing goes?
GH: I get bagels when we’re home, but we were in Minnesota and the vets wanted donuts so they sent us out. There were no donut places around the hotel! Usually there’s a Dunkin or a place around but there wasn’t one. Anytime the vets need something they turn to us. Only a couple months left and then I won’t have to worry about it anymore.
LBS: Are you pretty good about cooperating with it and being a good sport or are there sometimes when you really don’t want to do it and don’t?
GH: For the most part you have to suck it up and do it, and it’s only for a year now. But there is a line where everyone has their limit, so there’s a line that they probably can’t cross where we’d stand together and say we’re not doing it. For the most part, the vets have been great about it and they haven’t asked us to do too much.
LBS: I know you were getting all kinds of crap about the Olive Garden deal, did you think it would become that kind of a fiasco?
GH: No, I really did not. It wasn’t a big deal for us — we were just eating somewhere very familiar for us. We like to go familiar places before games, so it wasn’t a big deal for us. I usually go to Subway before every game.
LBS: You get it on game days? What’s your favorite sub at Subway?
GH: I usually get in on game day, get a turkey and provolone sub, chips and a drink. It’s a nice healthy lunch for me.Google+