Thursday, March 11, 1999

Indiana's 'Silent Assassin' speaks up

Guyton would like to get the ball more

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A.J. Guyton believes if Indiana is to go anywhere in the NCAA Tournament, he needs the ball more. But Guyton, a shooting talent who has pulled IU out of the fire more than once, always has been overlooked.

        Back in Peoria, Ill., long before Playboy magazine tabbed him a pre-season All-American, he was just the shooter in the shadows. The guys from Peoria Manual High School, who won their third of four straight Illinois Class AA state titles in Guyton's senior year, got the publicity and attracted the college scouts. Guyton, a skinny 6-foot-1 kid from Peoria Central, was the afterthought.

        How funny, then, that Guyton has gone on to attract national fame for his game-winning exploits at Indiana, while two of the three stars from that other team in town — Illinois signees Frank Williams and Marcus Griffin, who were both academic non — haven't even played a minute of college basketball yet.

        The third, Illinois sophomore Sergio McClain, isn't surprised by Guyton's success. He was always quiet, but always deadly.

        “He's kind of the last man standing,” McClain said. “I think his senior year, he put up better numbers than all of us, but he was still overlooked. Michigan State and Indiana were the only schools that recruited him. But he's the silent assasin. He doesn't say anything, he's quiet on the court, but he just kills you.”

        But Guyton had plenty to say after Indiana's Big Ten Tournament loss to Illinois last week. He said he's frustrated that coach Bob Knight's system doesn't get him the ball enough.

        “That's something we have to work on,” Guyton said. “I can't talk much about that.”

        But he did talk about how this has been a rough year, one which has been disappointing for Guyton and the Hooisers (22-10), a No. 6 seed in the South Region who open NCAA Tournament play today against No. 11 seed George Washington (20-8).

        “It's been tough for me,” Guyton said. “I've been watching all the other guards around the country, and they just play well. The coaches let them play well. That's been the frustrating part for me. I can do a lot more than I'm asked to do around here.”

        McClain agrees Guyton's teammates don't look for him enough.

        “Sometimes they lose sight of him,” McClain said. “He's capable of taking them far, but he's out of the offense at times.”

        Though he doesn't want to sound like the weight of the Hooisers is on his shoulders, Guyton believes he's capable of more.

        “Everybody has to play well for us to go far,” he said. “If I don't play well, most likely the team is not going to play well. When I come out and have a bad game, I get down on myself because I know the team needs me to perform. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed for this basketball team. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it happens.”

        Guyton and teammate Luke Recker, a 6-6 sophomore swingman, share the load as Indiana's top scorers. They are nearly equal statistically — Recker averages 16.5 points per game and Guyton 16.4 — but Guyton has better shooting range and can create more for himself and teammates off the dribble. He averaged 20.3 points in Indiana's last 13 regular season games.

        “He's really the guy that can break guys down one-on-one and create shots for himself,” said Indiana guard Michael Lewis. “We need him to play well each and every game. When he doesn't, we struggle. Defenses do a good job of shutting him down.”

        Guyton's three-point bomb, which he often launches from well behind the arc, can be deadly. Ask Penn State, which he beat with a game-tying shot in regulation and a game-winner this season on his way to a career-high 33 points.

        “He gets you comfortable. You don't think he's going to shoot that far out, and then it's like “Bang!' ” said McClain. “Plus, he can get you off the dribble. If he gets you in the middle, he's through. He improves. There's a lot of intagibles to his game.”

        “A.J.'s a great offensive player,” said Michigan guard Robbie Reid. “He can do more in a half-court setting. He's got great legs, he's got a great turnaround jumper he can utilize from the post, and he elevates well on his jump shot, so he can shoot in anywhere.”

        But that shot can also be a negative. Illinois played zone, and Guyton had to lauch 12 of his 13 shots from three-point range. That stagnates the rest of the IU offense.

        “We've got to do a better job of getting him the ball inside the three-point line where he can create a little more,” Lewis said. “We need quick movement and to be aggressive.”

        Said Reid: “When we've played Indiana, I haven't minded guarding A.J. as much (as Ohio State's Scoonie Penn), because I think if you get up on him and you're physical with him, I think he has trouble.”

        McClain, however, has a message: Don't underestimate this guy like so many people did back in Peoria.

        “If they give him the ball,” McClain said, “he can do things for them.”


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