When asked by Celtics Wire if he’s kept in touch with Hayward, George explained how he tried to help set him up for success and watched him take off. “Yeah, I’ve been in touch with him. I’ve been in touch with him, texting and kind of been watching him from afar, how he’s been progressing. Early on, I was around him more so, sending him messages and talking to him. At this point, it looked like he’s doing really well, just watching him on the court.
George explained how he went through the exact same thing and how he helped Hayward prepare for the massive mental hurdles that are tossed in his way. “That’s one of the biggest things I told him, cause I knew it was going to be frustrating,” George said. “Where you feel like you’re getting better, you’re about to turn that corner and then you’re going to have some setbacks. That’s part of doing so well, putting so much stress on it, that sometimes it’s going to get sore, sometimes it’s going to feel like you shouldn’t have did something. It’s all part of the process.”
It’s been over a decade since Billy Donovan and Al Horford won back-to-back NCAA Titles together at Florida, but the Oklahoma City Thunder coach remembers it like it was just yesterday. Speaking before his Thunder visited the Celtics Tuesday, Donovan recounted what made Horford one of the greatest defenders he’s seen back in college. “He was an unbelievable defender when he was in college,” Donovan said. “The best I ever was around – one of the best. Go back to his junior year, we’re playing Ohio State and I put Noah on Greg Oden. And he’s out there guarding guards. We played Brad’s team, I think Brad was an assistant, we played Butler to go to the Elite 8. [They’re] playing with four guards and I’ve got him guarding a guard.”
Horford is still maligned by casual fans and observers for not putting up gaudy per game stats commensurate with a max player. But everyone who has ever been around him has seen what he is capable of and why he manages his game the way he does. “There’s no doubt in my mind he could have averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds (at Florida),” said Donovan. “We would have never won a national championship. And that’s the thing with him. He can go out there and score more points, but he also understands that may not be best for their team. And the thing I’ve always respected about him is it’s always about winning. And he’ll do whatever he needs to do for winning, and whatever he has to sacrifice for winning.”
One of the things that makes Horford so deadly is that he can initiate a play from any situation. He can serve asa . point forward when needed and he can grab a rebound and run the fast break. When he was under Donovan at Florida, that was the skill that made the biggest difference. “Like, I let him start the break all the time in college, him and Noah, I let those guys push the ball, and it was great for us. He’s a great passer. He’s a great, great player because he does all the intangible things. There may be guys that jump higher. There may be guys that have better post moves. There may be guys that shoot the ball better. But as it relates to winning, like, he impacts winning at the highest of levels in my opinion.”