Nov. 11, 2009
RUSTON, La. - Stepping into a new and challenging situation can sometimes cause a person to be intimidated and fall short of expectations.
Ryan Leaf was a Heisman finalist in 1998 and was a second-round NFL draft pick. He then played for three different NFL teams in three years and was labeled as a bust.
Greg Oden was a first team All-American as a freshman at Ohio State and was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft in 2008. He has struggled and has been hampered with injuries in the NBA.
Comparing Jamel Guyton's transition to those two isn't a fair comparison because Guyton's leap to NCAA Division I basketball has been as smooth as a Michael Jordan jump shot.
Hailing from Odessa, Texas and growing up in a big family, Guyton is the second youngest of three brothers and three sisters. Though one brother and two sisters played basketball and two brothers played football in high school, Jamel was the only one to play in college.
After averaging 20 points per game his senior season at Odessa High School, Guyton had area schools such as North Texas, Texas State and Odessa College recruiting him. Odessa College, an NJCAA school even offered him a scholarship halfway through his senior year, but was uninterested in the two-year hometown school.
"They wanted to take me to dinner and talk to my family and I never wanted to do it," Guyton said. "I felt like I was better than what I really was."
When Guyton wasn't offered a scholarship from the big schools like he had hoped, he went back to the coaching staff at Odessa College and told them that is where he wanted to play. However, Odessa didn't have anymore scholarships available. Guyton then decided he was going to sit out the 2006-07 season, until he got a suggestion from his parents, James and Rachel.
"They told me that since I messed up my chance to get a scholarship at Odessa College, I should just walk on," Guyton said. "I started and was the leading scorer there so I guess it worked out."
That got the attention of coach Nikita Johnson who was an assistant at LSU at the time. Johnson made trips to Odessa to recruit Guyton's teammate, Quintin Thornton, to be a Tiger when Guyton caught his eye.
"I saw Jamel and I liked him because he could really shoot the basketball," Johnson said. "He can make open shots, is a good defensive player and is a kid that understands discipline."
When Johnson was hired to join Kerry Rupp's staff at Louisiana Tech, he saw the need for a scorer like Guyton and recruited him to be a Bulldog.
Odessa prepared him well and as it turns out, coming to an NCAA Division I school wasn't as tough as Guyton thought it would be.
"Playing at Odessa College was a lot of fun," Guyton said. "The coaches are totally different. Coach (Dennis) Helms stayed on top of us all day and night. Coach Rupp is more laid back. The conditioning at Odessa was crazy. When I came here I thought it was going to be harder, but the play is just faster."
One time at Odessa a teammate missed a class and because of that, the entire team ran what coaches call, "five at five." That is a five-mile run at 5 a.m. and was completed in a time that is suitable for the coach.
"There is a saying out there that any student-athlete that stays with coach Helms for two years will have success at the next level," said Johnson of Helms who has coached 10 NBA players.
The first game at the next level for Guyton came on Nov. 15, 2008 when he started in his debut at Louisiana Tech. He picked up where he left off at Odessa, scoring 27 points, five assists and three steals in a 61-59 win at Louisiana-Lafayette. He scored in double-digit figures 17 times and reached 27 points again in a win over New Mexico State.
All of that was accomplished by a man who is advised by eye doctors not to drive at night.
"I have a bad astigmatism," Guyton said. "The last few pairs of contacts I've had, I haven't been able to wear. I've seen doctors in Ruston and probably three or four at home."
For years, Guyton's various doctors told him that he didn't qualify for LASIK eye surgery. Anyone thinking they'll see a Horace Grant look-a-like on Karl Malone Court this season is mistaken. Guyton has no plans to bring the glasses he occasionally uses in the classroom out on the basketball court. However, the 6-3 guard said that the most recent doctor he visited told him he now qualifies to get the eye surgery.
Despite the poor eye sight, (which Guyton says doesn't hamper his play on the court), his personal goal for the season is to improve his free throw shooting from 78 percent to 90 percent. As a team, the goal is to win the Western Athletic Conference.
With Guyton's past history of handling new situations, getting corrected vision along with providing senior leadership should make all of his goals much more attainable.