Daulton Hommes often set his alarm for 4:40 a.m. this summer so he could get to his 5:30 a.m. workouts with basketball skills trainer Jason Smeathers. It does not sound like an idyllic way for a college player to spend August in beautiful San Diego, but Hommes had been through enough to know this would all require some work.
He missed his junior and senior seasons at Lynden (Wash.) Christian High after twice tearing his left ACL. He was a Division 2 walk-on who emerged as a potent scorer after sprouting 6 inches. And now, after transferring from Western Washington to Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, he was determined to chase his pro basketball dream.
And sometimes you just have to set your alarm for 4:40 a.m. for that.
Smeathers had some 6:30 a.m. workout time slots, too, but those were usually occupied by Celtics forward Gordon Hayward.
Smeathers has mostly followed Hayward as the former All-Star rehabilitated from the devastating left ankle injury he suffered last October. He briefly moved into Hayward’s home in Boston, traveled with him to Indianapolis, and joined the Hayward family at its summer home in San Diego.
After Hayward progressed from standstill shooting to spot-up shooting to shooting off the dribble, he was ready to play basketball against an actual person again. Hommes is 6 feet 7 inches — just like Hayward — and the two have similarly athletic body types, and they were sharing a gym and a trainer anyway.
“At the end of a workout, Jason was just like, ‘I think we might need someone to play one-on-one against Gordon Hayward,’ ” Hommes said. “I was like, ‘Oh, for sure, I’ll do it.’ ”
So the little-known Division 2 forward became the first player to have consistent one-on-one battles with Hayward, helping the former All-Star prepare for his resurgence. Hayward, Hommes, and Smeathers would usually meet at an Exos gym in La Jolla, Calif., reserving a court in the back where distractions would be at a minimum.
“It was the first real one-on-one I’d played in a year,” Hayward said. “It was definitely weird at first. I’m going for like every single fake, every single jab. But any time you’re not playing and can get some live action, that’s really good.”
The matchups were usually scripted. One player would catch a pass from Smeathers on the wing while the other made a quick close-out. Or they took entry passes in the post, mid-post, and elbow, and then tried to score while the other played defense.
“There weren’t any rules, but we both stayed within three or four dribbles,” Hommes said. “We’re not trying to burn 20 seconds dancing around up top. But it was a really good experience to go against someone so established.”
For Hommes, who averaged 18.1 points per game and received all-conference and all-region honors as a sophomore last season, the basketball workouts did not really make him nervous. Sure, Hayward was stronger and better, but Hommes knew he would not embarrass himself.
Nevertheless, he was a bit uneasy about being the first player to face Hayward after such a massive injury. He did not want to do anything that might disrupt this recovery.
“I tried not to think about it,” Hommes said. “But it was just always in the back of my mind. Especially if he like shoots a jumper, I’m definitely not trying to slide under him. Once we started going and getting reps, I felt more comfortable. But, yeah, his health was kind of in the back of my mind. I mean, it’s Gordon Hayward.”
Hommes said even though Hayward was in the early stages of returning to action, his unusual skill set was obvious, and his strength was almost overwhelming. He chuckled when he thought back during a phone interview.
“Gordon’s really, really strong,” Hommes said. “Once he gets into game shape, I think he’ll be back to being an NBA All-Star. I think he’ll get back to where he was a dominant player.”
And the admiration, it turned out, was mutual. When Hayward matched up against Hommes, he found it puzzling that this 6-7 wing was playing for a Division 2 school.
“He kind of grew and came out of nowhere,” said Hayward, who was unaware of Hommes’s two knee injuries until he was made aware of them Saturday. “I think he’s really, really good. It was nice of him to come over and workout with me. I needed somebody to play against, and he’s actually good.”
Hommes said Smeathers later told him that Hayward saw NBA potential in him, and that was the coolest thing Hommes could have heard from anyone this summer.
“This kind of maybe sounds crazy to you since I’m a Division 2 player,” Hommes said, “but hopefully I’ll be able to play against him in the NBA someday.”
Hayward and Hommes had about eight one-on-one and shooting workouts this summer before Hayward progressed to three-on-three and five-on-five scrimmages with NBA players.
Hommes told his parents and close friends about his sessions with Hayward, but he mostly kept them to himself. He didn’t even share a photograph or video of them on Instagram.
But Hommes will always remember them, and he will always remember that he was the first person who was called upon when Hayward was finally ready to play against someone else again.
“Gordon’s been so consistent throughout his rehab, and staying in the gym and working on those early mornings,” Hommes said. “I was just happy to be a part of it.”