SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward remembers better days.
With the Utah Jazz spiraling into tonight’s game at San Antonio, the former NCAA Tournament star — now Utah’s starting small forward — can be forgiven for thinking nostalgically about his time as Butler Bulldog.
While the Jazz (34-34) spend time in Texas, EnergySolutions Arena is home to the NCAAs.
Before leaving, Hayward said he still thinks about when Butler came through town in 2010 on its way to the Final Four.
“Great times,” he said, reflecting on the Bulldogs’ Sweet 16 victory over Syracuse and Elite Eight upset of Kansas State.
By winning those two games, which were played at ESA, Butler punched its ticket back to Indianapolis for the Final Four.
There the Bulldogs beat Michigan State in the semifinals only to lose to Duke in the championship game.
Hayward later left for the NBA and was drafted by the Jazz with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft.
“Syracuse was probably the most talented team of that tournament,” he said.
Although he couldn’t have known it at the time, Hayward was dominating in an arena he’d soon call home.
He said playing in an NBA arena was a big deal for the Bulldogs.
“Yeah it (was),” he said. “Especially because at Butler. We never played at NBA arena. We didn’t get very many opportunities to do that.”
Hayward said he and his Butler teammates talked about some memorable Jazz postseason games played inside the arena.
He was careful not to mention anything specific, but there’s a good chance they talked about Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the one in which Chicago’s Michael Jordan helped the Bulls win yet another title.
“We all grew up watching some of that,” he said. “We talked about some of the players that were playing on that court and getting an opportunity to do that also. (It was a) pretty cool experience.”
Hayward said if the Jazz weren’t on the road this week he’d find his way over to the ESA to watch some March Madness.
And speaking of madness … there’s the Jazz’s current predicament.
Utah is struggling mightily of late, having dropped 10 of their last 13 and have fallen to 1 1/2 games behind the Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff chase.
Hayward scored 27 points and had eight rebounds during the Jazz’s 100-93 loss at Houston on Wednesday.
The Jazz play at Dallas on Sunday and then will travel home to play host to Philadelphia on Monday.