Lazar Hayward was an undersized power forward and part-time center at Marquette. Now he has to show the NBA he can make the transition to small forward and shooting guard.
If you think playing out of position in college has hurt the Buffalo native's chances to play at the next level, you'd be wrong.
"This is what every kid dreams about and what every kid works for," Hayward said by phone Monday from Newark, N.J., where he had a workout with the Nets. "To play in that league, you have to be ready for the challenge. I've always been a hard-working person, always been a tough guy. I take pride in everything I do. If one of those teams drafts me, I'll have to be ready to do it all."
If Hayward is chosen in the NBA draft on Thursday night, he'll be the second player from Western New York selected in as many years. Former Niagara Falls and Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn was selected sixth overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer.
Hayward also would be the first product from the Buffalo Public Schools to get drafted since Seneca's Damone Brown was the second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001.
"It's a blessing and a great feeling to be put in a category with those guys," said Hayward, a former Traditional standout. "I think it goes to show that you can't forget about old Buffalo. We're not like a bigger city that has all those guys going into the NBA, but we do develop some good players. It shows that with hard work and dedication anything is possible."
Most mock drafts have Hayward going somewhere in the second round. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas projects Hayward will be selected midway through Round Two.
"Lazar is a good prospect," Bilas said Monday on a predraft conference call. "I think he's got a chance to be a contributor on a team. I don't see him as a starter, but I think he would be a solid guy coming off your bench and he'd give you some quality minutes."
Despite giving up a lot of size, Hayward held his own against the top big men in the Big East. He led Marquette in scoring (18.1 points per game), rebounds (7.5) and steals (1.9) as a senior to earn second-team all-conference honors. He ended his career as the school's second-leading rebounder and fifth-highest scorer.
Hayward got NBA scouts to take notice at the NBA predraft combine in Chicago last month. His measured height of 6-feet-4 1/2 in bare feet and 6-5 3/4 in shoes, is slightly shorter than the 6-6 Marquette listed him at. But his 7 3/4 -foot wingspan and 36-inch vertical leap were better than expected as was his 10.87-second time in a lane-agility drill, which was second only to the 10.84 seconds recorded by Kentucky point guard John Wall, the consensus choice to be the first overall pick in the draft.
Hayward also bench-pressed 185 pounds 15 times, 11 fewer than his Marquette record, but tied for 10th-best at the combine with Georgetown center Greg Monroe, a projected lottery pick, and Nevada forward Luke Babbitt, a projected first-rounder. Hayward impressed in shooting drills, making 17 of 25 attempts from the college three-point line and 15 of 25 behind the longer NBA arc.
"He came in [to Chicago] in great shape," Milwaukee Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week. "His physical conditioning was, I think, a little bit above the other guys that were coming out this year."
Hayward's combine performances sparked a lot of interest. He has worked out for Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta, New Jersey, Minnesota, Miami, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers. He made his second visit to San Antonio on Tuesday followed by a trip to Boston today.
The biggest issue facing NBA teams is whether Hayward can defend small forwards and guards. He believes he has answered that question during his visits.
"They are putting me up against the best players in the draft [during the workouts] and I think I've more than shown that I can guard and play my position," he said. "I also think I've shown I can play different positions and guard different positions."
McKinney said Hayward has the tools to be a good perimeter player in the NBA.
"With him, he's tough enough to be able to play the inside because he's stronger than battery acid, and then with his agility, he'll probably be able to cover some people out on the floor, too," McKinney told the Journal-Sentinel. "Every team looks at those [combine numbers] pretty closely. But I think more importantly, if you look at his effort and the kind of young man he is and the way he's worked to prepare for this, you wouldn't bet against him being on a roster and playing minutes for somebody [next season]."
Former college coach and current ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla believes Hayward could follow in the footsteps of former Marquette teammate Wesley Matthews, an undrafted rookie who was a major contributor for the playoff-bound Utah Jazz.
"You're talking about a guy who is not low maintainence, he's no maintainence," Fraschilla said.
Former University at Buffalo and Hutch-Tech standout Rodney Pierce is not expected to be drafted, but he recently had a four-day visit with the Phoenix Suns.