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Gordon Hayward: “Someone’s got to be national champion, so why can’t it be us?”

Butler player Gordon Hayward, middle, watches teammates practice on Friday, April 2, 2010, at Lucas Oil Stadium. (James Brosher / IU Student News Bureau)

When it came to college, Gordon Hayward Sr. indoctrinated his son from Day One.

He bought him sweatshirts, took him to football and basketball games and decorated both his kids’ rooms with a certain school’s colors: black and gold.

As in, the black and gold of Purdue University.

Hayward, Sr., and wife Jody were proud graduates of Purdue, but when it came time for their children to pick colleges, that black and gold turned to blue and white.

As in, the blue and white of Butler University.

“I told both my kids, ‘I’ll pay for you to go in-state and you can go wherever you want for four years…just don’t take more than four years,’” Hayward, Sr. joked.

Both Gordon and twin sister Heather chose Butler, and both are student athletes. Heather plays tennis and Gordon opted for basketball. 

“It was obvious at Butler you were going to be a student athlete,” Hayward, Sr., said. “It was such a great fit for him because it’s unselfish team basketball, the way it should be played. Coach (Brad) Stevens and his staff were outstanding; they were everything that he was looking for.”

There was no doubt in anybody’s mind Gordon Hayward was a gifted athlete. Growing up he played basketball, soccer, baseball and tennis. Like many Indiana kids, he was passionate about basketball and pretended to be Reggie Miller.

Hayward played on the traveling team for basketball, the all-star team for baseball and was the No. 1 singles player in tennis at Brownsburg high school.

But it wasn’t until his junior year that coaches viewed him as a potential Division I basketball player.

When Hayward started high school, he was 6 feet tall. With both parents at 5-10, they assumed he would not grow taller. Hayward Sr. and his son focused on sharpening his skills as a guard, no matter what height he would reach.

“I did tell him at the beginning, ‘You’re going to be a guard at some point, might as well be a guard now,’” Hayward Sr. said. “Second of all, what was I going to teach him? All I could really teach him was guard skills because I’m 5-10; I’m not a post player.”

Hayward’s high school coach, Joshua Kendrick, remembers the first time they met. Six years ago, when Kendrick first arrived in Brownsburg, he had a meeting and open practice for returning players. Hayward’s talent was apparent.

“There was this scrawny little kid who was about 5-10 and he weighed about 110 pounds and didn’t look like much,” Kendrick said. “But you could tell he had some skills; he could pass the ball well, he could shoot the ball well, he handled it well and just had a poise about him.”

Yet, what really was memorable was Hayward’s email later that night.

“Coach said anything that can help us out we can win sectional, and I was like, ‘We can win the state championship,”’ Hayward said.

“It was really a brash and bold statement for that young man to make,” Kendrick said.

By his senior year, Hayward grew to 6-8 and led his Brownsburg team to the Class 4A Indiana high school boys basketball state championship.

Down 39-38 to Marion with 2.1 seconds remaining, Kendrick had two options with Austin Fish inbounding the ball from the sideline: one was Hayward and the other was big man Julian Mavunga, who is currently at Miami (OH).

“I told Austin to find one of those guys that are open, throw the ball to them, and they’ll get it done for us,” Kendrick said.

And after a deflection, Hayward was the one that got it done.

“I’ve heard Bob Knight say ‘Watch Gordon Hayward, he always pursues the basketball, he’s always around the basketball,’” Kendrick said. “Sure enough, two years ago Gordon continued to pursue it, and after it was deflected, picked it up and put the ball up on the rim and it went in.”

As for his teammates, they didn’t want the ball to go to anyone else.

“On the court he was the guy everyone was comfortable watching have the ball. Whether it was his ball handling skills, shooting skills, free-throw ability or calmness, everyone always had a relaxed state of mind when he was in control,” said Blake Hall, a friend and teammate of Hayward’s since the fourth grade.

Now, in his sophomore year at Butler and in the Final Four, the 6-9 forward still has the same mentality he did in high school.

Stevens says his school’s first NBA prospect is a “tough, tough guy” and is a team player. When asked about the NBA Hayward said, “Right now it’s just focusing on Butler basketball. I’ll leave that for after the season.”

Whether the end of that season will include a national championship isn’t yet know. What is known is that Hayward will take the same approach into the weekend that he took at Brownsburg High School, that there’s no reason to dream if you’re not going to dream big.

“I don’t think you should stop short of anything,” Hayward said. “Our whole goal was to win a national championship and someone’s got to be national champion, so why can’t it be us?”

A team of Indiana University journalists is reporting for the Final Four Student News Bureau, a project between IU’s National Sports Journalism Center and the NCAA at the men’s tournament in Indianapolis.

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