Gordon Hayward was waiting. And he was about to be late.
The Jazz rookie forward watched the clock strike 9 Friday morning. Then Hayward's eyes began to pore over Utah's nearly deserted practice facility as he quietly searched for his friend.
Normally, Hayward's sidekick was never late. Not for midnight one-on-one shooting contests at the practice facility. Not for pregame warm-up sessions followed by fan-friendly autograph signings. Not for heated Xbox matchups that Hayward always owns, or laughter-filled locker-room conversations in which Hayward would go on and on about his long-distance relationship, while his friend becoming more like a brother than just another teammate as a long, challenging season wore on would chomp on popcorn, smile and simply nod.
So Hayward stayed put. He continued to watch the clock, hold out hope and postpone a weight-lifting session that would soon pack more muscle onto his once slender frame.
But Jeremy Evans never arrived.
Hayward's closest friend in Salt Lake City a fellow Jazz rookie forward had suddenly been called away, temporarily shipped to Orem to play for the NBA Development League's Utah Flash.
The duo had survived Summer League, media day, training camp, regular-season success and failure, and the drama-filled departures of Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams. And in between all the trash talking, endless encouragement and bullet rides in Evans' "Transformers"-like, yellow-and-black Camaro, the rookies had never been apart.
"My boy is gone," Hayward said.
Not for long, though.
Evans is set to rejoin the Jazz on Sunday, prior to what could be a season-defining, four-game road trip. And the ever-growing, increasingly remarkable friendship between the duo will again be on time.
Rookies often bond on professional sports teams. Especially first-year players such as Hayward and Evans, who are surrounded by a tight, family-like collection of Jazz veterans who have been engaged in the same conversations for years.
But Utah coach Tyrone Corbin has been in the NBA for most of his adult life, as has assistant Jeff Hornacek. The same goes for Utah's Francisco Elson, Ronnie Price and general manager Kevin O'Connor. And while each has seen and been through just about everything in the book during their professional tenures, all displayed more than a little awe when discussing the bond between Hayward and Evans.
Corbin said the duo are big brother (Hayward) and little brother (Evans) on the court. But away from the hardwood is where they truly shine.
"They've created a friendship that will last forever," Corbin said.
That friendship has allowed both to persevere, overcome and unite.
Hayward has balanced progress with humbling frustration and uncertainty all season. The former Butler standout who was a soft bounce away from shocking Duke and the collegiate basketball world during the 2010 NCAA men's basketball championship has started 12 contests as a rookie for the Jazz, at times pouring in points and walking off the court feeling like a true pro. But he has also suffered through long stretches where his minutes have been severely compressed, briefly reaching a point where he began to wonder what it would have been like if he had remained a Bulldog for his junior season.
"It was hard. Trust me, it was hard struggling," Hayward said. "But at the same time, you've got to be mentally strong and just try to keep working."
When the No. 9 overall selection of the 2010 NBA Draft hits bottom, the No. 55 pick has been waiting.
"I think it's good just to have both of us working together," Evans said. "He comes in and puts up shots, and I'm right there putting them up with him. If he was the only rookie, he'd be doing that by himself. The load would still be on him probably even bigger just because he'd be getting down on himself. I try to keep him up and keep his confidence up."
Evans has carried his own weight. Always smiling, forever upbeat, the human pogo stick has, at times, been a high-flying marvel. But most of his wonder has arrived in minute-long increments, and his early promise was recently swept away to make room for the future.
Utah rookie forward Derrick Favors the No. 3 overall pick of the 2010 draft has been established as a crucial building block during the team's post-Williams rebuilding process. In turn, Evans has become the only Jazz player whose name has been attached to the D-League this season.
While the cold business side of the NBA has made an impact on both rookies highlighted by Sloan's sudden resignation and Williams' unexpected departure their friendship hasn't been dented.
Two months ago, Hayward and Evans had seen "several" movies. Now it's up to 11. The silver-screen outings started last summer, then peaked with Hollywood's pre-Oscar onslaught. "True Grit" and "TRON: Legacy" were must-sees. Hayward caught both. Evans did, too sort of. While Hayward stared wide-eyed at everything that was shown, Evans snored through four.
"He's going to deny all of those," Hayward said. "But I look over, and he's [asleep]."
The only real disagreement occurs when dinner is up for grabs. Evans lives downtown; Hayward doesn't. And while it would only take 15 minutes for either of them to jump on the interstate and be at the other's front door, it's much easier for each to talk trash and stand their ground just like brothers.
"We can't figure it out," Hayward said. "He'll be like, 'No, you come here.' And I'm like, 'Nah, man. You come over here.' And so we end up just eating by ourselves. Sometimes, I'll go to Applebee's or Outback by myself, which is kind of awkward."
Year • Rookie
Stats • 3.6 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.8assists
Draft • No. 9 overall pick (first round)
Year • Rookie
Stats • 3.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.3assists
College • Western Kentucky
Draft • No. 55 overall pick (second round)
NBA freshmen carry extra weight
Jazz rookie forwards Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans are still paying tribute to ex-Utah guard Deron Williams.
Williams saddled Hayward and Evans with neon-colored, grade-school girls' backpacks when the season began. Since then, the bags have become synonymous with Jazz road trips, as the duo are required to show off their accessories with their designer suits.
Williams is no longer on the Jazz. But Hayward and Evans haven't let their former captain down.
Hayward, on what's inside the packs • "Mine's usually empty. But on the plane, they have snacks. So we always grab those, and I stuff them in there for going back to the hotel or whatever. [The food is] gone by the next time the plane leaves, so I just fill it back up. I have cards because we're supposed to bring playing cards, and those are in there just in case. Sometimes, [veterans] want to play, or they don't."
Dealing with the embarrassment • "I don't really think about it. [Evans] is always the one who's [saying], 'We can't be seen with these bags.' And I'm like, 'Whatever, man. We'll just carry 'em around. We're rookies. We can do it for a year.' "
Evans, on his pack • "It has an iPod speaker because [the veterans] listen to it on the plane."
More than ball
Jazz rookie forwards Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans have formed a close friendship during the 2010-11 season, one that now has teammates and coaches referring to them as "brothers."
How close are Hayward and Evans?
They have seen 11 movies together Evans has fallen asleep during four of them while the duo do everything from put up late-night shots at the Jazz's practice facility to challenge each other in video games.
Hayward owns Evans at the latter.
"I don't know if Jeremy can point and walk at the same time," Hayward said. "He should stick to FIFA. He's pretty good at FIFA."
Evans doesn't deny his friend's remote-control prowess.
"I won't play him in Halo," Evans said. "Call of Duty, either. He's pretty good."