SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – As the Utah Jazz prepare for their season opener tonight at home against Denver, much of the talk during the morning shootaround was about Gordon Hayward, who suffered a gruesome leg injury Tuesday night.
Despite any negative feelings Jazz fans may have towards Hayward for leaving, for coaches and players there was nothing but sympathy and empathy.
“I had an emotional reaction,” head coach Quin Snyder said when he watched the video. “You just feel awful for him, and you don’t know how to respond. I reached out to him and just told him that with every bone in my body, I believe he’ll overcome this. I’m not his coach right now, but in some respects you have a player and you come close to him, and that relationship is always there.”
“It’s just like of a sick feeling, really,” said Jazz forward Joe Ingles. “You just hope that he’s OK. I spoke to him a little bit after it happened. He’s obviously pretty down and disappointed, but like Dante, he’ll just have to do work out what he needs to do to get back.”
“It’s unfortunate,” added forward Joe Johnson. “Hopefully he has a speedy recovery, but I’m just worried about the Jazz right now.”
So the Jazz move on, and after countless practices, scrimmages and preseason games, its time to see what this team can really do.
“I don’t think we can practice a whole lot more,” Snyder joked. “I think you reach a point where you need to play somebody, not just to test yourself, but to find out more and more about yourself.”
“We have no choice but to be ready,” Johnson said. “We’ve been grinding the whole preseason, training camp, and now it’s time to get started.”
So will there be nerves on opening night, even for the veterans?
“Yeah, every opening night,” said Johnson, who is about to begin his 17th season in the NBA. “If you don’t get the butterflies or the jitters in your stomach, then it’s probably time to hang it up.”
“No, I’ve got too much going on,” Ingles said. “I’ve got twins running around the house.”
But for rookie Donovan Mitchell, who will be counted on to play some point guard due to the shoulder injury suffered by Dante Exum, he feeling more excited than nervous.
“Not right now, but probably in about four or five hours, I would say,” Mitchell said. “But I’m surprising myself to come out here and not be nervous and not be agitated. There are going to be mistakes, but it’s game one. Everybody is going to be anxious and excited, but I think we’re really prepared to play, not just Denver, but for the whole season.”