Butler readies for life without Hayward

INDIANAPOLIS -- Butler coach Brad Stevens finally got the answer he needed Friday, even if it was bad news.

Star forward Gordon Hayward is heading to the NBA, and Stevens can now turn his full attention toward next season.

Minutes after Hayward announced he would stay in the draft and give up his final two college seasons, Stevens turned his attention to a basketball world without his top player.

"Right now, I'd say we have 14 players on our roster and barring something unforeseen, those will be the 14 players we go into next season with," Stevens said.

The question is whether Butler can make another magical NCAA tourney run without Hayward.

He was the Bulldogs top scorer (15.5 points per game), top rebounder (8.2), the Horizon League's player of the year and the catalyst for Butler's run to the title game. Twice in the closing seconds against Duke, Hayward had chances to help his team win the championship. Instead, he missed a short baseline jumper and a buzzer-beating halfcourt heave -- the last two shots of a short college career that won't soon be forgotten around Indy or his nearby hometown of Brownsburg, Ind.

His departure, of course, means Butler now has a huge void to fill.

Hayward was projected to go in the top 10 to 20 picks when he entered the draft April 14, numbers that remained constant as he decided whether to withdraw from the draft before Saturday's deadline. He just couldn't.

"I will always be a Bulldog at heart, and I will pursue my degree in the future," Hayward said as the band practiced inside Hinkle Fieldhouse for Saturday's graduation.

Hayward said he informed teammates of the decision during a dinner at Fazoli's, prompting Stevens to cut in with this: "He's already working on the sponsorships."

Losing Hayward is a serious blow to a program that had steadily risen in national prestige before becoming the headline attraction at this year's Final Four, with their campus less than six miles away.

Some figured that with four starters returning next season, the Bulldogs could make it two in a row. Without Hayward, well, that road gets much tougher.

Stevens must now replace two starters, senior swingman Willie Veasley, and Hayward.

The Bulldogs will return their starting backcourt -- Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored, the Horizon's co-defensive player of the year -- and 2009 conference player of the year Matt Howard. Guards Shawn Vanzant and Zach Hahn, both seniors next season, will provide depth and experience. Center Andrew Smith, at 6-foot-11, will likely get more playing time, and Stevens has an intriguing freshmen class, too.

Butler signed 6-foot-9 Erik Fromm and 6-foot-1 Crishawn Hopkins, both Indiana All-Stars, and 6-foot-7 Khyle Marshall from Florida. Marshall is ranked among the top 25 at his position by Rivals.com.

With those three, Butler could be bigger, deeper and more athletic next season.

"We haven't really talked about next season yet, but when I talk to them, it [the message] is going to be to continue where we left off," Hayward said. "I know they're going to be fine. They're all hard workers and they'll all be fine."

Hayward flashed a smile throughout the news conference, where he was joined by his parents, grandparents and Stevens.

Some fans in Indy are hoping Hayward's next stop doesn't require any traveling. It could happen.

"We welcome him to the NBA and wish him the best for a long, successful and prosperous career," Pacers president Larry Bird said. "He's definitely an interesting prospect."

Bird should know. He also played for an unlikely national finalist, Indiana State, in 1979 before becoming a Hall-of-Fame player with the Boston Celtics. The Sycamores never made it back.

Hayward thinks his ex-teammates can change the script, and so does Stevens.

"I'm excited for him," Stevens said. "I told you I'm not going to play the role of salesman, I did that once already in his life. Gordon is a special guy who will continue to have success, and we'll continue to have great success, too."