SALT LAKE CITY -- First he was a wet-behind-the-ears rookie, then a promising young player with skills and leadership potential.
Now as he embarks on his fourth season in the NBA, Jazzman Gordon Hayward has become the face of a franchise.
"It's weird to think that five years ago I was still in high school and three or four years ago I was in college and nobody really knew who I was," Hayward said Monday at the Jazz's annual media day event.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, which gets underway Oct. 30, the Jazz are Hayward's team. Gone are big-name, big-money players like Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams. Youngsters Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and rookies Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert are poised to take over.
And Hayward, 23, is expected to lead them.
There are older players on Utah's roster this season, notably Marvin Williams, 27, and newcomers Richard Jefferson, 33, Brandon Rush, 28, and 7-footer Andris Biedrins, 27, whom the Jazz acquired in a trade with Golden State and Denver. But none of those veterans has been with the Jazz as long as Hayward, Utah's first-round pick in the 2010 draft.
The Jazz selected Hayward after watching him lead the little-known Butler Bulldogs to the 2010 Final Four. Although the Bulldogs came up short against Duke in the finals, Hayward drew high marks for his leadership and steady play.
Though only 20, the skinny 6-foot-8 shooting guard/small forward opted to leave college early. The Jazz liked what they saw and drafted him with the No. 9 overall pick later that summer.
Believing Utah's front office staff had botched the decision, several fans booed then-general manager Kevin O'Connor as he announced Hayward's name. By taking Hayward at No. 9, the Jazz passed on Fresno State forward Paul George (selected by Indiana at No. 10), and Virginia Commonwealth big man Larry Sanders (Milwaukee, No. 15).
George turned out to be an All-Star with the Pacers and Sanders, who averaged 9.5 rebounds and nearly three blocked shots a game last season (second in the NBA). But the Jazz have always been confident in Hayward, even when it appeared he lacked confidence in himself.
During his first three season in the league, Hayward's scoring average has risen from 5.4 points a game as a rookie to 14.1 last season.
After last season, with Al Jefferson, Mo Williams and Millsap heading for free agency, Jazz officials sat down with Hayward and challenged him to become more of a leader. General manager Dennis Lindsey on Monday said Hayward met that challenge over the summer.
"One of the things that we told him is, absentee leadership is an oxymoron, it doesn't exist," he said. "For him to move toward more of a leadership position he's had to be more present.
"The fact that he works well on his own terms is great but Derrick needs to see him, Enes needs to see him and he's complied."
Hayward and Favors missed the Jazz's summer league series in Orlando, Fla. to play for USA Basketball's select team in Las Vegas. But in keeping with the Jazz's challenge to him, Hayward made a special trip to Orlando to be with his young teammates before their first summer league game.
"I wanted to check out the younger guys, work out with some of them and the coaches and get ready for Las Vegas and the USA thing," he said. "I was able to check out their first experience as NBA players and talk to them a little bit and go down and be a little bit of a leader."
Hayward said he felt it was important to be there with his teammates rather than simply texting or calling them on the phone.
"I just wanted to be with the team," he said.
* JAZZ NOTES: Jazz have signed free-agent forward Brian Cook, guard/forward Justin Holiday and center Dwayne Jones II. Per team policy, financial terms were not released. All three players will join the Jazz prior to this week's training camp at Zions Bank Basketball Center. Following the three additions, Utah's roster now stands at 19 players.