“You could kind of see,” said Celtics guard Phil Pressey as a knowing smile came to his face. “He talked about every single player, but as soon as he brought up Hayward, he kind of gave a couple more details about him.”
And Stevens’ first NBA win was no different from so many at Butler: Hayward was the best player on the floor.
“He’s a lot better than when I coached him, and man was he good when I coached him,” said Stevens after watching the Jazz guard drop 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists on his Celtics. “I thought he was the best player in college at the time, and man has he improved. I’m proud of him.
“I can’t tell you what that feels like, because I was there when he was a puppy ‘¦ and nobody was recruiting him. And it was like, ‘You think we should offer that guy a scholarship? Nobody’s looking at him. Nobody’s even in the building.’ It was probably a good decision, in retrospect. He’s awfully good.”
Let’s just say the feeling is mutual.
“He knows the X’s and O’s, and he knows the game of basketball, and although it is a little bit different form of basketball, it’s still just the same game we’ve been playing since we were young,” said Hayward. “He’s got a really good feel for the game. I’m sure with his offensive and defensive schemes, he’ll get guys to do the right thing.”
Hayward could see Stevens’ influence in the Celtics success on Wednesday night.
“I thought they did a good job of moving the basketball,” he said. “That’s one thing that he always did when I was in college. We moved the basketball from side to side, and usually when you do that, you get a good shot. They ran out on us there in that game a little bit, and we dug ourselves too deep a hole.”
The Celtics’ hire of Stevens shocked Hayward. “He’s just been a part of Butler for so long, and I just didn’t think he would leave, but I was super excited for him. It’s a great opportunity for him to coach at the next level.”
The two Butler products have traded text messages during the season, and they talk often when they’re back home in Indianapolis during the summer, so perhaps their mutual admiration will bring them together again. Hayward becomes a restricted free agent this summer, when he’ll be seeking a deal worth somewhere in the range of $50 million over four years, according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski . The Celtics have more than $20 million coming off the books this coming offseason and could potentially be players for Hayward’s services.