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Jazz's Burks, Hayward make quick connection

Published July 31, 2011 10:44 pm

Jazz • Rookie Alec Burks pays a visit to his new teammate and learns about work ethic.
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Alec Burks had never met Gordon Hayward prior to two weeks ago. Hayward sent Burks a good-luck message June 23 after the Jazz selected the guard with the No. 12 overall pick during the 2011 NBA Draft. But that was the extent of their previous contact. To Burks, Hayward was just another unknown player on Utah's roster that the rookie hoped to team up and compete with whenever the lockout ends.

Then Burks listened to the advice of his agent and took a trip to Indianapolis. Setting up camp in Hayward's home region, the former Colorado standout soon found himself completely immersed in Haywardland. Two-a-day workouts totaling five hours that run Monday through Friday at St. Vincent Sports Performance. High-energy five-on-five games in the renowned Indy Pro Am league, which counts Daequan Cook (Oklahoma City), Lance Stephenson (Indiana), JaJuan Johnson (Boston), Shelvin Mack (Washington) and E'Twaun Moore (Boston) among its big-name draws this year.

Improve every day — a workaholic's dedication to the basketball court — Burks has quickly picked up Hayward's driven routine. The rookie dropped in 34 points Thursday during a Pro Am game, building off two weeks of drills that have focused on shooting, agility, strength and core training. And the newest Jazzman not named Enes Kanter now has a workout companion — not to mention an NBA teammate whose work ethic he's learned to admire and respect before training camp has even begun.

"[Hayward is] better than I thought he was. He makes plays and he's athletic. He's a good person, too," said Burks, who acknowledged that his shooting stroke is coming along faster than he expected thanks to the assistance of coach Ed Schilling.

Hayward returned Burks' praise. The No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 draft hasn't been able to watch Burks play five-on-five yet. But Hayward has already worked out with Burks enough at St. Vincent to know that the 20-year-old who could be competing with 34-year-old veteran Raja Bell for minutes next season has the always-on mindset required of rookies who hope to make a difference during their first year in an unforgiving league.

"It's cool to see his game. He's got potential to be really, really good," said Hayward, who has held himself out of recent Pro Am competition due to minor right Achilles tendinitis. "It's cool to be able to work out with him and get things going and get a little connection before the season."

It's the second key connection Burks has made since NBA commissioner David Stern called his name on draft night. Burks recently returned to his hometown of Grandview, Mo., where he was able to join his mother and brother in celebration of his new job.

"I always love coming back home and seeing the people that I grew up with," Burks said. "It was a great feeling that everybody recognized that I got drafted, and I was proud of it."

The Pro Am will likely be extended past its scheduled early August end point due to the lockout. As a result, Burks plans to use Indianapolis as his training base for the foreseeable future. Hayward's not going anywhere, either, which means that two of the Jazz's youngest and most promising players should only get closer while the work stoppage lingers.

"We're going to be teammates for the long haul, so it's great to bond with one of my teammates," Burks said. "He went through the same thing as me last year, so he knows everything."

bsmith@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz —

Dynamic duo

Who • Jazz's Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks

What • Training during the NBA lockout

When • The duo joined forces two weeks ago and plan to stay in Hayward's home region for the foreseeable future

Where • Indianapolis

Why • NBA players aren't allowed to use team facilities during the lockout

Web • indyproam.com