A.J. Guyton is among the impressive list of talented import players enriching the Israeli Premier Basketball league this season. Guyton and others like him have made the local league more exciting and competitive than it has been in years.
The 25-year-old, 1.87-meter tall Guyton has been an important part in the surprising early-season success of Hapoel Tel Aviv. Hapoel is 5-1, in a four-way tie for first place in the local league. They are also 5-2, in a second place tie, in the opening round of group C, in the FIBA Europe League.
Signed only a week before the start of the current season (he was one of the last cuts in the NBA's Detroit Pistons training camp), Guyton in some ways is still adjusting to his new team. He started the season slowly but in recent weeks has become more of a factor and is averaging about 15 points a game.
Tremendously athletic, a fine outside shooter, who can drive to the basket and create his own shot, Guyton helps provide excellent balance between Hapoel's outside and inside game. When he is fully acclimated to his new team, Hapoel's attack could be even more dangerous than it already is today.
Guyton, a native of Peoria, Illinois, had an excellent four-year college career at Indiana University. Indiana is a basketball-crazy state, as anyone who has seen the movie "Hoosiers" will know. Hoosiers is also the nickname of the state university's athletic team and the local populace lives and dies with the Hoosiers' success on the court.
Aside from Isaiah Thomas and Steve Alford, Guyton is considered to be the greatest guard to play in the storied history of Indiana University basketball. He finished his career scoring over 2,100 points, the fourth best in the university's history, while averaging 16.4 points a game. Guyton was particularly dangerous in last-minute clutch situations and hit several game-winning baskets during his career.
When on form, Guyton can take over a game, as witnessed last week in Hapoel's Europe League victory over Skonto Riga. Guyton made five out of six 3-point shots for 27 points and was instrumental in breaking the game open at the end of the second quarter and throughout the third.
At Indiana, Guyton played for basketball legend, coach Bob Knight. Knight, known for his "tough love" approach and volatile temper, was dismissed after Guyton's final season. In all, he compiled 661 victories and won three national titles over 29 seasons, and Guyton was his last big star.
Guyton had only good things to say about his famous, but controversial, coach. "He taught me almost everything I know about basketball. After listening to him, I felt like I could be a coach myself. He has a great basketball mind," said Guyton.
Guyton stuck it out for four years with Knight while other stars from the same period, like Luke Recker, Jason Collier and Neil Reed, could not tolerate Knight's tactics and transferred to other schools. "I learned a tremendous amount from coach Knight, like mental toughness and moving on in life after disappointments," Guyton remembers fondly, "though I didn't realize it at the time."
Guyton finished his Indiana career in the spring of 2000 and was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls. Guyton was a combo guard in college, but is really much more effective as a shooting rather than as a point guard.
Because of his relative lack of height, he was asked to make the transition to point guard in the NBA, but never really adjusted. In two undistinguished seasons in Chicago, he averaged 5.5 points a game. Guyton appeared in two games with Golden State last season and had trials with the Los Angeles Lakers as well as Detroit, none of which worked out.
This is Guyton's first real taste of European basketball (he played briefly with Skipper Bologna last year).
"I knew that making the Pistons was a long shot and that more than likely, I'd be in Europe this year, so I'm not at all surprised to be here," said Guyton. "The level of play is good. The Israeli league really seems to be growing."
In some ways Hapoel Tel Aviv is a better fit for Guyton than the NBA. He can take advantage of playing along side a skilled point guard like Lior Lubin and concentrate on scoring.
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