Midvale • Two months into Gordon Hayward’s rookie season, the Jazz small forward questioned everything. His confidence was shaky. His shot was off. And while the 20-year-old Hayward was confined to Utah’s bench, he wondered if he’d made a major life mistake by eagerly jumping into the unforgiving NBA instead of safely remaining at Butler University.
Nearly two years later, Hayward’s a completely different man.
A little more than a week away from entering his third season with the Jazz, the most promising player on Utah’s roster not named Derrick Favors sounded more assured than ever Saturday during an autograph-signing appearance at a sporting goods store.
Hayward, 22, declared he’s eyeing an All-Star selection and an eventual spot on the United States Olympic basketball squad. He wants to soak up minutes during the 2012-13 season, no longer content to live an unpredictable life as an NBA reserve or be relegated to the fifth option in Utah’s offense.
The offseason additions of veteran shooting guard Randy Foye and small forward Marvin Williams only have made Hayward hungrier. A Jazz training camp that starts Oct. 2 should be the most competitive since Deron Williams joined the franchise, with three positions completely up for grabs.
Hayward is still too polite and deferential to demand he must start when Utah tips off its regular season Oct. 31 at Dallas. But for the first time in his career, he’s on the verge of publicly demanding respect.
“I’ve shown that I belong in the league,” said Hayward, who averaged 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season during 66 games (58 starts). “And it’s something that you work for and you work towards, and now I know that I belong ... and now you push yourself even further.”
The deepest Jazz roster in years already has made an impact on the No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. Utah still hasn’t determined whether Hayward is a first-string player, and the Jazz have yet to ink him in at either shooting guard or small forward after 138 regular-season games played. As a result, Hayward could be vying for two spots throughout October, battling Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll, Foye and Williams for playing time.
The ex-Bulldog is ready. He added another five pounds of muscle weight during the offseason, pushing his 6-foot-8 frame to 223 chiseled pounds while again splitting time between Indianapolis and Santa Barbara, Calif. Speaking in a deeper voice and confidently stating his case, Hayward’s personal belief was captured by shoulders that continue to broaden and a chest that clearly has thickened since he entered the league after two years at Butler.
“You want to start for the team, and you want to make sure you’re the one out there on the court getting as many minutes as you can,” Hayward said. “So, especially in training camp, there’s going to be some competition going on. That’ll just further benefit all of our games and make us better as a team.”
He added: “We’ve definitely have got a lot of talent on the team, and we have a lot of depth. If we’re going to have a problem, I think that’s a good problem to have.”
Veteran Jazz guard Raja Bell will undergo a physical Monday in Salt Lake City.
Bell said Friday during a Miami-area radio interview he continues to hope Utah will trade or waive him before the season starts if a contract buyout cannot be agreed upon.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey declined comment Saturday when asked about Bell’s future and his statement that the Jazz never have made buyout details official.
Jazz training camp
Oct. 1 • Media day
Oct. 2 • Camp begins
Oct. 8 at Golden State
Oct. 12 vs. Oklahoma City
Oct. 13 at Los Angeles Lakers
Oct. 16 at Los Angeles Lakers
Oct. 17 at Los Angeles Clippers
Oct. 20 vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Oct. 22 at Portland
Oct. 25 vs. Portland