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Jeff Eisenberg

Sad to see him go, but Gordon Hayward makes the right decision

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Had Gordon Hayward opted to return to college for his junior season, he'd have been the face of a preseason top-five Butler team that could have contended for a national title and cemented the school's status as a perennial juggernaut.

He's making the rational decision giving that up, however, even if it's tough to admit for all of us college basketball sentimentalists who wanted to see him come back to lead one more improbable NCAA tournament run.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Hayward will announce on Friday that he is hiring an agent and remaining in the NBA draft. Really, it's amazing the versatile 6-foot-9 forward stayed undecided this long considering he's a near-certain first-round pick with a chance to play his way into the late lottery if he performs well in workouts.

The lingering question in the wake this news will be exactly what impact Hayward's absence will have on the future of the Butler program?

Can a Bulldogs team that still returns Ronald Nored, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack remain one of college basketball's elite teams next season and show future recruits that this level of success is sustainable? Or will Butler sink back to what it was before Hayward's emergence: A plucky mid-major capable of winning a game or two in the NCAA tournament but lacking the talent or depth to make a sustained run?

Although Butler will miss Hayward's rebounding, versatility and ability to create his own shot at the end of a possession, the opportunity is there for the Bulldogs to remain in the national spotlight if other players can rise up in his absence.

Next year's schedule includes a made-for-TV road game at Louisville to open the Cardinals' new arena and, of course, a national title game rematch against Duke on a neutral court.

It's hardly fair for anybody to have asked Hayward to put the team's interest over his own and return to play in those games. Still, it would have been great for the sport if just this once Hayward had passed up the allure of NBA riches for one more year and chosen the chance for an enduring college basketball legacy instead.

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