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Steve Luhm: Stevens, Hayward continue story-book saga in the NBA

Published March 1, 2014 5:59 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

No matter where their NBA careers take them from here, Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens will be linked forever.

Four years ago, Hayward was the boyish star and Stevens was the coach who looked young enough to be a teammate when Butler marched through Salt Lake City on its way to the first of consecutive NCAA championship games.

Hayward and Stevens put each other on the basketball map.

Look at them now.

In his fourth season with the Jazz, Hayward averages 16 points and, as a restricted free agent this summer, finds himself on the threshold of a huge payday.

Meanwhile, Stevens has also moved to the NBA.

When Boston committed to rebuilding last summer, veteran coach Doc Rivers decided he wanted out.

Rivers headed to L.A. to coach the contending Clippers, so the Celtics turned to Stevens. They gave him a six-year, $22 million contract to navigate Boston through what has already become a stormy era of transition.

Stevens could have stayed at Butler. His contract ran through 2025. But the chance to coach one of the NBA's storied franchises — not to mention all the coin — was too appealing.

Stevens brought his Celtics to Utah on Monday — his first visit to EnergySolutions Arena since Butler's magical NCAA run.

"I don't remember where they had us — which locker room they had us in," Stevens recalled. "But when I walked in, I got chills because it was one of the greatest sporting moments I've been a part of."

In 2010, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs won opening-round games against UTEP (77-59) and Murray State (54-52) to reach the regional semifinals.

In Salt Lake, they defeated No. 1 seed Syracuse (63-59) and No. 2 seed Kansas State (63-56) to reach the Final Four.

Amazingly, the national finals were played at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis — a long walk from Butler's campus.

Stevens remembers his team's departure from Utah after the victory over K-State.

"When we were on the runway — getting out of here — that plane got delayed about three hours," he said. "But it didn't matter. They could have delayed it for two days and none of us would have cared."

Last week, Stevens and Hayward shared dinner before the Jazz's 110-98 win over the Celtics.

"We just laughed about old times," he said. "That was about it. When you know somebody from the time they're 16, I just want to continue to be is a good friend and wish him the very best."

According to Butler legend, Stevens was the first coach to tell Hayward he could play in the NBA.

"I think it was when we were recruiting him," Stevens said, "and I didn't want to put it on him because he was still a pretty green kid at the time. …

"He really didn't show that consistently until his senior year, in the high school playoffs. But when March rolled around, he put his team on his back and led them to a state championship."

Hayward's last second-shot gave Brownsburg a 40-39 victory over Marion in the title game.

"You name a historic program in Indiana high-school basketball and they knocked them off to get there," Stevens said. "That was really impressive. That's when we said, 'There's more to it [with Hayward] than potential.' From that point on, it was exciting to have a guy like that because Butler hadn't had one for a long, long time."

luhm@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sluhm —

3-pointers

1. A star is born • Despite Philadelphia's miserable record and a recent slip in his play, point guard Michael Carter-Williams remains on track to be Rookie of the Year. The Jazz might have provided a launching pad for Carter-Williams, when they traded up and selected Trey Burke with the No. 9 pick in the draft. Philadelphia took Carter-Williams with the 11th pick. "I think it gives me a little bit of an edge," Carter-Williams said, "because I'm a competitor. Trey is a great player and the Jazz made a great choice. He's been playing well for them. But I try to use it as a chip on my shoulder."

2. Philadelphia's flop • The 76ers opened the season with wins over Miami, Washington and Chicago — all likely playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. But Philadelphia lost 43 of its next 55 games and could finish with the worst record in the league, depending how Milwaukee finishes. "It can't be a standard," says coach Brett Brown. "It can't be part of our fabric." On the positive side, the 76ers' woes provide Brown a glimpse into the personality of players like Carter-Williams. "I think it's a fantastic time to look from a distance and see what leaders emerge — to see how different people handle this [situation]," he said.

3. From the old school • Consider Jazz backup point guard John Lucas a fan of throwback basketball. "I feel like we're missing the mid-range game," he said recently. "It's either a layup or a 3-pointer now. It used to be all three: a layup, mid-range or a 3-point shot. You have stat guys who say the threes are most important and a long two is not a good shot. But I feel the mid-range [shot] can be effective." Why? "When you first come off a screen," he said, "you're mostly likely going to be mid-range. I think young guys need to work on those shots because that's when they will first be open."