I’ve already raved about John Wall. Evan Turner is out due to an injury, but when healthy he is one of the most complete players in the country. Luke Harangody is putting up monster numbers and Wesley Johnson is wowing NBA scouts. But if I were filling out my All-America ballot today I’d certainly have to include Butler’s Gordon Hayward.
The 6’8, 200 lb. sophomore is averaging 17.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs. Hayward is an extremely versatile player who can take his man off the dribble and shoot the three effectively (he’s 11-of-22 his last three games; he shot 44% from deep last season). He’s a good passer and can defend multiple positions.
Last season, as a freshman, Hayward was at his best against the best. Here is his point production in the following nationally-televised games: 25 at No. 21 Ohio State; 19 at No. 12 Xavier; 27 at Davidson; 12 vs. No. 20 LSU. That’s an average of 20.5 points per game, well above his season average of 13.1. Butler went 2-2 in those games, losing to OSU and LSU by three and four points, respectively.
It’s been more of the same this year for Hayward. Butler struggled early on against a brutal schedule, but not because of their star small forward. He kept them in the game against No. 15 Georgetown, scoring 24 in a five-point defeat, Butler’s third straight loss to a ranked team. Perhaps sensing his team needed him more than ever, Hayward delivered his second 24-point output in as many games, this time in a Butler win against No. 15 Ohio State. He followed that up with 22 and a career-high 14 boards, including a clutch rebound and the game-winning buzzer beater in a wild win against Xavier on Saturday.
His impressive marks of 20.2 and 10.4 against top competition (the ranked teams, plus Xavier) are starting to resemble his overall season averages — in other words, Hayward is becoming a consistently productive star. Once the Horizon League’s best kept secret — it was Hayward’s teammate, junior Matt Howard, who was winning all the awards — the college basketball world is starting to become more familiar with the lanky kid from Brownsburg, Indiana. Hayward was on the preseason watch list for both the Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award. The United States Basketball Writers Association (of which I am a member) gave him the Player of the Week award last week. In other words, the secret is out.
Hayward doesn’t jump out of the gym, lacks elite quickness, and doesn’t play with a lot of flash. But he does have a nose for the basketball and great court awareness. These qualities are obviously starting to get noticed by NBA GMs. On ESPN.com, Hayward is listed as the 18th best pro prospect.
Hayward strikes me as a four-year college player. He could still develop more physically, and mid-majors aren’t known for players leaving early. If he does stay in school and continues to develop, Hayward could someday win one of those awards for which he is a preseason nominee. If he keeps up his play of late, he could win some serious hardware this season.